With an Unusual--and Particularly Engaging--Combination of the Nativity and Annunciation to the Shepherds in the Same Miniature

WITHOUT TEXT, BUT PROBABLY OPENING PRIME.

(Delft: ca. 1470). Leaf: 172 x 115 mm. (6 3/4 x 4 1/2"). Frame: 242 x 190 mm. (9 1/2 x 7 1/2").

In an attractive wooden frame. A FINELY PAINTED MINIATURE OF THE NATIVITY within an arch-topped compartment, the parents of the Christ Child kneeling before him as he lies on the ground outside the stable, Joseph (uncharacteristically) supporting himself with a cane in his left hand and holding a long burning candle in his right, two diminutive angels in attendance, the head of an ass sticking out of the stable window in the background to the left, AND, IN THE RIGHT BACKGROUND, A CHARMING DEPICTION OF THE ANNUNCIATION TO THE SHEPHERDS, ALL OF THIS BENEATH A VERY DETAILED ARCHITECTURAL CANOPY suspended in the sky, AND THE WHOLE WITHIN A FULL BORDER of acanthus leaves and other foliage and flowers in reds, blues, greens, yellows, and brushed gold, along with very many small burnished gold ivy leaves and buds on hairline stems, a small stag in the bottom border and a large delicately shaded angel, who mirrors the Virgin's pose, in the left border (verso blank). A hint of soiling to edges of vellum, but IN VERY FINE CONDITION, without any paint erosion, with the colors rich and true, and with the burnished gold still shimmering.

Notable for its attractive color scheme, fine craftsmanship, and unusual composition, this vibrant leaf was produced by a talented artist belonging to the stylistic group known as the Masters of the Delft Half-Length Figures. The lack of text and blank back of this leaf clearly suggest that it was produced as a singleton intended for insertion in a Book of Hours, and its subject matter indicates that it would have faced the opening for the third hour of the day, Prime. The present depiction of the Nativity is out of the ordinary in that it is combined with another scene, the Annunciation to the Shepherds, a subject that usually begins Terce in the Hours of the Virgin. It is a testament to the artist's ingenuity and compositional skills that he has managed to incorporate these two scenes so seamlessly; in fact, rather than pulling focus from the main subject celebrating the birth of Christ, this secondary scene adds additional interest to the picture and amplifies the storyline. Though the Annunciation to the Shepherds takes place at a distance from the Nativity, we immediately grasp their connection and can see how arrival of humanity's savior was felt far beyond the manger. It is also interesting to note how much the artist has emphasized the figure of Joseph. Not only does he take up as much space as the Virgin, but the candle and cane he holds frame the Christ child and communicate a strong suggestion of a protective parent (the Virgin is doing her part by praying hard, but she is more passive). In addition to its engaging subject matter, there is a high level of artistic achievement here, including delicately molded figures, impressively detailed architectural elements, and a lovely color palette. The elegant hand seen in this miniature manifests a quiet sophistication that distinguishes this artist as a particularly talented member of his circle. Active from about 1450-80, the Masters of the Delft Half-Length Figures were named by James Marrow after the angels and other figures whose upper bodies are typically found emerging from a cloud within the borders. Although the present leaf uncharacteristically contains a full-length angel in the border, it shares other stylistic similarities, such as the elaborate architectural canopy hovering over the main composition; and it particularly resembles the work of the artist of Keble College MS 77, an illuminator described in "The Golden Age of Dutch Manuscript Illumination" as "one of the more articulate of the group" whose "figures are more fully modelled and his palette . . . deeper and brighter" than that of his contemporaries. Because of the complexity of the subject matter and the high level of artistic accomplishment seen here, this leaf was probably part of an elaborate Book of Hours produced in response to an important commission.
(ST17765)

Keywords: Book of Hours

Add to Cart Price: $18,000.00

PJP Catalog: 81.039

(ST17765) WITHOUT TEXT, BUT PROBABLY OPENING PRIME. WITH A. VERY FINE MINIATURE OF THE AN ILLUMINATED VELLUM MANUSCRIPT LEAF FROM A. DUTCH BOOK OF HOURS, THE MASTERS OF THE DELFT HALF-LENGTH FIGURES.