AGNUS DEI, historiated initial ‘G’ cut from a choirbook [Lombardy, perhaps Cremona, final quarter of the 15th century]
A captivating initial, of unusual subject matter, cut from one of a grand series of choirbooks from the Lombard city of Cremona, once apparently in the collection of William Young Ottley. Cuttings from these volumes survive in a number of important British and American institutions, and comparison between them bears witness to the large number of different hands working together on the choirbooks. Stylistically, this initial is not close to that of the named illuminators known to have worked on the corali – including Frate Nebridio and Baldassare Coldiradi – but is particularly accomplished in its own right. Of specific note are the soft ringlets of the female martyr saints, the pleasing uniformity of their thick robes and the gentle gradation of the blue sky. Although sufficient text has not survived as to prove conclusive, the initial must relate to Revelations 7:9, where a great multitude robed in white are described as standing before the Lamb of God.
- An Augustinian convent in Cremona. On the verso is inscribed ‘Como – from the Duomo’, a misattribution in a hand very close to that of an anonymous 20th-century collector recognisable from other cuttings held in certain public collections (although customarily the inscription will read 'from the Cathedral of Como'). These have been grouped together by Anna Melograni as stylistically attributable to Cremona in the second half of the 15th century. Augustinian nuns that appear in other cuttings from the corali volumes suggest the affiliation with a female institution.
- WILLIAM YOUNG OTTLEY (1771-1836), English collector and Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, profited from the looting of French troops in the wake of the Napoleonic invasion of Italy in 1796. The misattribution to Como is already present in the Ottley sale catalogue (Sotheby’s, 11-12 May 1825), the current miniature likely formed part of one of the group lots 161-9.
125 x 125mm.
Bibliography and reference:
For related cuttings from the Cremona choirbooks, see for examples: British Library, Add. 39636, ff. and Add. 38897C; Harvard, Houghton Library Mss Typ 981-6, 990, 993; Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E M 28:8 & 71:1c; and Metropolitan Museum, Robert Lehman Collection (see Pia Palladino, Treasures of a Lost Art; Italian Manuscript Painting of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, 2003, pp. 128-130, cat. no 62).
Anna Melograni, ‘Miniature Inedite del Quattrocento Lombardo nelle Cellezioni Americane’, Storia dell’Arte, 82, 1994, pp. 283-302.
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