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Lot 37: The Vismari Hours, Book of Hours, Use of Rome, in Latin and Italian, illuminated manuscript on vellum

Western & Oriental Manuscripts

by Sotheby's

December 3, 2008

London, United Kingdom

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Description: [Milan, c.1500] 200 leaves (one blank leaf), 54mm. by 38mm., complete, collation: i-xxv 8 , horizontal catchwords or signatures, written space 32mm. by 24mm., 12 lines in a rounded Gothic bookhand, rubrics in red, numerous small initials in liquid gold on red or blue grounds, paragraph marks in last section in gold, numerous 2-line initials in gold on green and red grounds heightened with white penwork and with foliate extensions into border terminating in strawberries, one 'AMEN' on fol. 135r in alternate silver and gold, ten historiated initials (fols. 33r, 49r, 59r, 63v, 68r, 77r, 104v, 119r, 159r, 190v), two large miniatures (fols. 135r and 143r) and two half-page miniatures (fols. 131v and 140r), some minor wear (see below), else in excellent condition with wide and clean margins, marbled pastedowns and late seventeenth- or early eighteenth-century binding of leather stamped with flowers over pasteboards, some worming to spine and loss of leather from base, front board now loose

Notes: text The text includes a calendar (fol. 1r, with minor wear to the first leaf, and many entries local to Milan, including St. Galdinus, archbishop of Milan on 18 April and the dedication of the cathedral there in October); the Office of the Virgin, with Matins (fol.18r), Lauds (fol. 33r), Prime (fol. 49r), Terce (54v), Sext (fol. 59r), Nones (63v), Vespers (fol. 68r), and Compline (77r); the Seven Penitential Psalms (fol. 104r); a Litany of the Saints and prayers (fol. 119r); instructions in Italian to say these prayers with cinque pater noster e cinq[ue] ave maria (fol. 142r); a Litany of the Virgin (fol. 143r); Stabat mater (fol. 185v); the Hours of the Passion (fol. 190v). This is one of the smallest Books of Hours ever sold in our rooms. It is superseded only by three others: a book of Hours sold 18 June 1991, lot 155 (37mm. by 23mm.); the Priuli Hours, sold 20 June 1995, lot 97 (43mm. by 30mm.); and the Hours of St. Francis, sold 6 July 2000, lot 86 (50mm. by 34mm.). The Bibliothèque Nationale, according to Leroquais, Livres d'Heures, 1927, has a number of these volumes, but none as small as the present example. The Walters Art Gallery, the largest collection of Books of Hours outside Europe, also has a number of these miniature volumes, but again none as small as this. Finally, the British Library's smallest Book of Hours is, to the best of our knowledge, Additional MS. 58,280 (de Hamel, History of Illuminated Manuscripts, 1986, p. 172, life-size plate), which measures 54mm. by 40mm., and thus is some 2mm. wider than this one. Miniature books have always commanded fascination, and were the subject of an exhibition in the Grolier Club and Boston Public Library in 2007, accompanied by the volume by A.C. Bromer and J.I. Edison, Miniature Books, 4000 Years of Tiny Treasures, 2007 (with medieval manuscripts on pp. 17-28). illumination "It is obvious that to paint on such a minute scale required the highest skill, and the services of a good artist could be secured only by the very rich. This is particularly true at the very end of what we call the medieval period" (C. Sterling, The Master of Claude, Queen of France, 1975, p. 5). The miniatures and decoration here are typical of the workmanship of Milan around 1500, and are of excellent quality. The significant illuminations are: (1) folio 17v, a full-page miniature of the Virgin with Child enthroned beneath a laurel wreath and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, as the owner of the book, dressed in a black tunic with a red armband kneels before them, all before a hilly landscape with delicate trees; facing a small miniature 29mm. by 15mm., of the adoration of the Child (somewhat damaged), with architectural borders enclosing a cabochon with Christ's face and the arms of the Vismari of Milan between a duck and another bird (all somewhat scuffed through use). (2) folio 33r, with a coloured historiated initial on gold ground, 20mm. by 15mm., enclosing a half-length portrait of Christ encircled with a banderole and pointing to the text, full border of fruit and flowers with an Agnus Dei in the bas-de-page; excellent condition. (3) folio 49r, with a similar initial, enclosing a half-length portrait of a male saint holding a staff, full border as above, surmounted by 'IHS' and a cross in gold on a black disk, and with a peacock in the bas-de-page; excellent condition. (4) folio 59r, with a similar initial, enclosing a half-length portrait of a monastic saint with a wounded side and holding a crucifix, full border as above containing a life-like painting of a medieval jewel; excellent condition. (5) folio 63v, with a similar initial, enclosing a half-length portrait of a bearded saint, three-quarter border as above, and a landscape, 25mm. by 11mm., of a meandering river through trees in the bas-de-page; good condition with some loss of paint from initial and some cracking to landscape. (6) folio 68r, with a similar initial, enclosing a half-length portrait of a monastic saint, border as above with two medieval jewels; excellent condition. (7) folio 77r, with a similar initial, enclosing a half-length portrait of St. Christopher carrying the Child, border as above with a medieval jewel; excellent condition. (8) folio 104v, with a similar initial, enclosing a half-length portrait of King David set before the night-sky, border as above; excellent condition. (9) folio 119r, with a similar initial, enclosing a half-length portrait of a bishop hands held in prayer (probably St. Egidius), border as above and containing a hind in the bas-de-page; excellent condition. (10) folio 131v, half-page miniature, 19mm. square, with half-length portrait of Christ facing the reader, holding an open book and blessing, all set before the night-sky, border as above but with a dove-like bird and two jewels; excellent condition. (11) folio 135r, large miniature, 28mm. by 20mm., containing the Virgin and Child enthroned, border as above with two jewels; excellent condition. (12) folio 140r, half-page miniature, 25mm. square, with half-length Christ before the Cross, cupping his hand to his wound so that his blood runs into a chalice, border as above with a jewel; slight damage to face of Christ. (13) folio 143r, large miniature, 29mm. by 20mm., with the Virgin kneeling in prayer in a grassy landscape, border as above with a jewel; excellent condition. (14) folio 159r, historiated initial, enclosing a kneeling man before a golden chalice in the sky, border as above with jewels; good condition, but outer edge of border a little scuffed. (15) folio 190v, historiated initial, enclosing the Virgin kneeling before the Christ Child, border as above with two jewels; excellent condition.

Provenance: provenanceWritten and illuminated for a member of the Vismari family of Milan: his arms in miniature on fol. 16r, facing a portrait of him kneeling before the Virgin and Child.

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