With Unusual and Arresting Historiated Initials, Including Two Disembodied Hands Showing the Stigmata


(Bruges: ca. 1465). 193 x 145 mm. (7 5/8 x 5 3/4"). Single column, 21 lines in a gothic book hand.

Rubrics in red, WITH THREE LARGE HISTORIATED INITIALS: ONE WITH A PORTRAIT OF CHRIST WEARING THE CROWN OF THORNS, AND TWO WITH DISEMBODIED HANDS SHOWING THE STIGMATA, each initial in pink or blue with white tracery, filled with dark pink or blue with thin gilt lines and dots, hands with wavy blue rays radiating from behind the appendage, all within a thin gilt frame, both sides with a three-quarter border consisting of hairline vines, gold bezants, and a few colorful flowers. ◆Margins with a little light soiling, BUT IN FINE CONDITION, THE PAINT OF THE INITIALS ESPECIALLY RICH AND WELL PRESERVED.

From a manuscript probably produced in Bruges for the English market, this leaf contains arresting initials that direct the viewer's attention to the wounds endured by Christ during the Passion. According to Roger Wieck, Passion Cycle images enjoyed a particular vogue in 15th century Dutch, Flemish, and English Books of Hours, including those that were exported to England. In the present example, the strikingly unusual imagery includes a portrait of Christ wearing the Crown of Thorns, his gaze fixed directly at the viewer, and in separate initials, his left and right hands appear disembodied and displaying the stigmata. A sister leaf to the present item features three additional initials showing the wounds of the left and right foot, as well as the spear injury to Christ's side, depicted as an oval piece of flesh with a laceration across the center. The parent manuscript containing the present leaf sold at Christie's on 15 November 2006 (lot 16), the description for which gives us additional information about the book's contents and provenance: it was made for the Use of Sarum, included a calendar with the English saint Thomas Becket and Popes Gregory and Silvester (with their names crossed out, indicating that it was in England through at least the time of the Reformation), and contained an early ownership inscription of a woman named Bridget Lowe with a Middle English inscription on the pastedown. Christie's also attributed the parent manuscript to the workshop of William Vrelant, with miniatures possibly by his chief assistant, the Master of the "Vraie Cronique Descoce." They note that this work is "of higher quality than many of the works that satisfied the English demand for Netherlandish illumination" and that it "demonstrates why Vrelant appealed to the great bibliophiles of the Burgundian Netherlands." Vrelant was the leading purveyor of books of private devotion in Bruges during the third quarter of the 15th century, and his prominent position among Flemish illuminators of the time is indicated by the considerable number of manuscripts illustrated in his manner by other miniaturists both in Bruges and in nearby cities in Flanders. Similar examples to the present leaf can be found in intact Books of Hours at the Philadelphia Free Library (MS Widener 3) and the Huntington (HM 1086)--both of which were produced in Flanders or the Netherlands around the same time as the present work--but the present leaf surpasses both of these examples in terms of excellence of the artistic hand and level of detail depicted.

Price: $7,500.00