FOUR LEAVES WITH HISTORIATED INITIALS from the CHESTER BEATTY BIBLE, illuminated by the Dominican Painter [Paris, c.1250-60]
A sumptuous example of mid-13th-century Parisian illumination, these four leaves come from a Bible once owned by the great Irish-American collector Alfred Chester Beatty. The decoration is the work of the so-called Dominican Painter, described by R. Branner as ‘an eccentric in mid-thirteenth-century Paris [...] keenly aware of nuances and particularly sensitive to people’s reactions’. His style is defined by its constant defying of traditional tropes: his figures are exaggerated in their postures, and imbued with expressive character.
The historiated initials depict: (i) God speaking with Moses and Aaron (Leviticus 26:26 – Numbers 1:16); (ii) Judith cutting off the head of Holophernes (Tobit 14:5 – prologue to Judith); (iii) a Fool holding a club and eating a loaf of bread (Psalm 50:8 – Psalm 56:5); (iv) two priests singing (Psalm 95:12 – Psalm 102:13).
- The illumination has been attributed to the so-called Dominican Painter, active in Paris in the mid-thirteenth century. The parent manuscript must have been an imposing and outstanding production: the present leaves were ff. 51, 218, 251 and 260.
- The already imperfect parent manuscript belonged to SIR ALFRED CHESTER BEATTY (1875-1968), his MS.W.116, and was exhibited at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1955, no 10. It was sold at Sotheby’s, 3 December 1968, lot 14. Chester Beatty also owned a second French manuscript Bible (his MS W.173), confusingly also dubbed the 'Chester Beatty Bible'.
- ALAN THOMAS (1911-1992), purchased by him and Charles Ede in 1968. A number of single leaves appeared for sale in Folio Fine Art, cat.63, May 1969, nos 761-4, Maggs, Bulletin 7, 1971, nos 1-2, with another appearing in Bulletin 15, 1998, no 13, and Alan Thomas, cats.22, no 1, and 23, nos 21-2.
- The present leaves were sold at Sotheby’s, 22 June 1993, lot 7.
4 leaves, c.250 x 160mm. 51 lines of text in two columns.
R. Branner, Manuscript Painting in Paris during the Reign of Saint Louis, 1977, pp.118-22.
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