A GROUP OF TWELVE ILLUMINATED AND HISTORIATED INITIALS, cut from an illuminated choirbook on vellum [Lombardy, c.1500]
The delicate handling of the faces with fine, softly curling hair and the convincing landscapes are those of the artist known as the Master B.F. (fl. 1490-1545), the illuminator of a series of choirbooks for the Olivetan monastery of Santi Angelo e Niccolò in Villanova Sillaro at Lodi, near Milan. The stylistic resemblance of the present initials to those cut from the Santi Angelo e Niccolò choirbooks indicates that they were painted at the same time; the original set of probably twenty volumes were broken up in 1799 after the suppression of the monasteries, the initials extracted and dispersed. The Master B.F. – named for his monogram on other initials – remains without universally-accepted identification, but prestigious commissions for Olivetan houses, including San Vittore al Corpo in Milan, exemplify the importance of this Milanese illuminator, whose debt to Leonardo can be seen in the intricately modelled figuration and craggy landscapes.
The subjects of the nine historiated initials are as follows (a further three are decorated with foliate infilling): the Holy Cross (C), Saint Paul (D), Mary Magdalene (N), St Michael (N), Golgotha (O), the Eucharist (P), Saints Alphius, Philadelphus and Cyrinus (S), John the Baptist (U), Pentecost (U); with illuminated initials C, G, and M.
On average 75 x 78mm. Framed.
Dizionario Biografico degli miniatori italiani, ed. M. Bollati, 2004, pp.438-42.
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