Woodson Research Center, Rice University

Guide to the Small illuminated sacred manuscripts collection, ca. 1250-1460 MS 024



creator Catholic Church
Title: Small illuminated sacred manuscripts
Dates: ca. 1250-1460
Abstract: Three leaves of rare 13th and 15th century Catholic liturgical manuscripts, hand drawn and beautifully illustrated on vellum.
Identification: MS 024
Quantity: 0.25 Linear Feet(1 box)
Language: Latin
Language: Materials are in Latin.
Repository: Woodson Research Center, Rice University, Houston, Texas

Biographical / Historical

Each of these leaves originally formed part of a bound volume, either a Psalter, Bible, or Book of Hours. Having been taken from their context, the specific location and date of their original creation or use is difficult to determine. What information exists has been provided in the detailed description for each item.


Scope and Contents

Three leaves of rare 13th and 15th century Catholic liturgical manuscripts, hand drawn and beautifully illustrated on vellum. 1. Leaf from a Bible, Paris, middle third of the 13th century: Illuminated vellum manuscript leaf with an unusual and especially appealing historiated initial showing King Ahasuerus, Esther, and Mordecai, all connected by a handman's rope, from a Bible in Latin. Text from the opening through the first three chapters of Esther. (Paris, middle third of the 13th century) 248 x 152 mm. (9.75" x 6"). 2. "Beatus" leaf from a Psalter in Latin, Southern Netherlands, late 13th century: Illuminated vellum manuscript with a fine historiated initial showing scenes from the life of King David and with a decorative border including a hunting scene. Text from Psalm 1:1 - 2:8. Southern Netherlands [possibly Saint-Omer], late 13th century, 140x102mm (5.5"x4"). 3. Leaf from a Book of Hours, Bruges, circa 1460: Illuminated vellum manuscript leaf with a miniature of the death of the Virgin, from a Book of Hours in Latin. 218 x 152 mm (8 5/8 x 6").


Restrictions

Conditions Governing Access

This material is open for research.


Index Terms

Illumination of books and manuscripts, Medieval
Catholic Church

Related Materials

See also Illuminated Sacred Music Manuscript Collection, MS 510, Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University.


Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Small illuminated sacred manuscripts collection, ca. 1250-1460, MS 24, Woodson Research Center, Fondren Library, Rice University

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased Janury 2014, October 2016, from dealer Phillip Pirages.


Detailed Description of the Collection

Series I: Manuscripts

Box Folder
1 1 Leaf from a Bible, Paris, middle third of the 13th century
Scope and Contents
Dealer description: Illuminated vellum manuscript leaf with an unusual and especially appealing historiated initial showing King Ahasuerus, Esther, and Mordecai, all connected by a hangman's rope, from a Bible in Latin. Text from the opening through the first three chapters of Esther. (Paris, middle third of the 13th century) 248 x 152 mm. (9.75" x 6"). Double column, 55 lines of text in a very small, pleasing gothic book hand. Capitals struck with with red, chapter numbers and headlines in red and blue, two prominent chapter initials in red or blue with elaborate penwork in the same two colors, and one side with a fine historiated initial telling the story of Esther and Mordecai, the main part of the captial in three compartments (measuring, together, approxiamtely 60 x 8 mm) at the top of the column and with a marginal extender stretching the entire length of the text. Faint marginal discoloration, minor soiling and rumpling, generally in nearly fine condition.
This is a remarkably engaging early Bible leaf with an initial that is replete with narrative communicated in an unusually imaginitive visual manner. The Book of Esther tells the story of how the faithful court official Mordecai is saved from being ahnged at the ahnds of the Persian king Ahasuerus' treacherous minister Haman. And it tells of the successful attempt made by the Jewish queen Esther to save her people from Haman's edict of extermination, an order prompted by the fact that Mordecai, a Jew, refuses to prostrate himself in Haman's presence. Our initial seems to conflate the two stories in a clever and artful way. In the bottom compartment of the long initial "I," we see Mordecai, dressed only in tatters from waist to knees, with a noose around his neck. He is done entirely in white against a magenta background, a depiction that suggests his impending lifelessness (there is also a tiny dragon nipping at his feet). The rope stretches upward through the floow of the middle compartment and into the top compartment, where the regally attired king sits with both hands grasping the deadly cord. A good firm tug, and Mordecai is dead. But in the crucial middle compartment sits Esther, who also grasps the rope in such a way as to provide the critical slack necessary to save the would-be victim. As in seen here, the historiation of Bibles produced during the 13th century tends to relate to the text in some specific way (though there are also a certain proportion of generic figures). What is infrequently seen is the incorporation of multiple elements of the story. And what is even more uncommon is the case, as here, where the artist takes imaginitive liberties with his subject in an effective visual wayin order to emphasize something grand and inherently difficult to portray - like a queen saving her people. (ST11316)
2 "Beatus" leaf from a Psalter in Latin, Southern Netherlands, late 13th century
Scope and Contents
Description provided by dealer: Illuminated vellum manuscript with a fine historiated initial showing scenes from the life of King David and with a decorative border including a hunting scene. Text from Psalm 1:1 - 2:8. Southern Netherlands [possibly Saint-Omer], late 13th century, 140x102mm (5.5"x4"). Single column, 19 lines in an excellent gothic liturgical hand. Versal initials in red or blue, three line blue initial on verso with wispy red penwork elaboration in the form of delicately drawn ivy leaves extending into three margins (slightly trimmed at the top). RECTO with a wonderfully animated 12-line historiated "B" (60 x 55mm) in pink and white tracery, the initial on a ground of blue and pink knotwork, the upper compartment containing a miniature of King David harping in his palace (the towers of which poke through into the head margin), and the lower compartment showing the young David about to behead the giant Goliath, who is attired in a tunic and chainmail, both scnese in colors on a burnished gold ground, the initial with branching leafy border extending into all four margins, the border composed of blue and pink bars with twining leaves and berries in pink, blue and orange at the corners, a bas-de-page scene of a hunter with a horn and bow accompanied by two hounds pursuing a leaping stag, one blue bird flying up along the fore-edge margin and another perched atop the initial, pecking at a berry, a delightful lion dozing on the very top of the text, his improbably long tail extending down 13 lines. Gold mostly lost now (revealing white gesso), script a little difficult to read beacuse of fading or erosion, a number of very tiny holes where ink has eaten through the vellum, other minor defects, but none of these imperfections fatal, the vellum generally well preserved, and the original appeal of the dynamic leaf still largely intact.
This is the extremely charming opening leaf of a very fine early gothic Psaltrer with spirited decoration, doubtless made for lay use. The scene in the lower margin shows a stag hunt, probably very familiar from the world of a patron. The subject and composition of the Beatus initial, with two scenes from David's life, became characteristic of the Southern Netherlands, especially in Ghent and Saint-Omer (cf. G. Haselhoff, "Die Psalterillustration im 13. Jahrhundert," pp. 112-122, and K. Carlvant, "Manuscript Painting in Thirteen-Century Flanders, Bruges, Ghent and the Circle of the COunts," p. 341.) The theme of Psalm 1 is the triumph of righteousness over evil, and the beheading of Goliath was an appropriate motif. Smililarly, the lion, crouching at the upper right here, had been a common theme for Psalm 1 in romanesque Psalters. The delicate style loosely resembles that of the manuscripts clustered around the Psalter of Guy de Dampierre (Brussels, B.R., MS 10607), ca. 1265-70, but it was imitated elsewhere, including at Saint-Omer (ibid., chapter 9, pp. 137-44). (ST12564)
3 "Death of the Virgin" leaf from a Book of Hours in Latin, Bruges, circa 1460
Scope and Contents
Dealer description: Mounted on a later sheet of vellum. A large rectangular miniature depicting the Virgin Mary on her deathbed, surrounded by the Apostles, this enclosed by a wide and ornate bar border in pink and blue with gold tracery, the frame outlined in burnished gold and with floral cornerpieces in colors and gold, this within a full floral border filled many leaves and flowers in color and gold. All four ruled margins trimmed away (with some loss at each edge), minor flaking of gold from cornerpieces and from the green robe of an Apostle, otherwise in fine condition.
The scene here is affecting and beautifully rendered, with much detail. The pale Virgin lies in her pink and blue robes on a fine bedstead with rich red pillows and counterpane embroidered in gold, one hand lifted in benediction. Saint Joan hovers by the head of the bed, while Saint Peter in a blue and gold cape administers the last rites. Two other Apostles kneel on the green tessellated floor beside the bed, while the others crowd into the stone bedroom with mullioned windows and vaulted red ceiling. It is the very definition of a gentle death, surrounded by loved ones, assured of salvation - the type of end aspired to by the Christians who used this prayer book. Although the perspective in the foreground is too rudimentary to make us believe that the Virgin is actually taking up space on an actual bed, the depth of the inner chamber is convincing, and the delicate faces are all extremely well done. (ST12994-001)