Two Franciscan monks, dressed in grey habits and holding open books, raise their hands in chant, gesturing to God the Father before a city – the house the Lord built – in the background.

This historiated initial “H” introduces the text of Psalm 126, Nisi Dominus edificaverit domum in vanum laboraverunt (“Lest the Lord build the house, in vain shall work those who build it”) from a large dismembered Choir Psalter.

The parent manuscript from which this leaf originates was dismantled during the Napoleonic era and has recently been partially reconstructed by Dr. Gaudenz Freuler (2013).  Freuler has identified at least fourteen sheets from the same Psalter:  nine in a Private Collection in Milan, two in the Fondazione Giorgio Cini in Venice (Medica 2016), and two others of unknown whereabouts (Zurich, Koller, Auction 186, 24 September 2018, lot 566; and Auction 188, 26 March 2010, lot 503).  The presence of Franciscan monks in our sheet and the detail of the symbol of St. Bernardine of Siena in the margin of the frontispiece (IHS in a burning sun) point to an original provenance of the Choir Psalter in a monastery of the Observant Franciscans.

Giovanni di Antonio da Bologna, the illuminator responsible for the Psalter, worked in the Emilia region primarily in the second quarter of the fifteenth century for religious institutions and in Ferrara for the Este court.  His dynamic late Gothic style displays a predilection for vibrant colors, strong reds, blues, and greens, and rich decoration.  Also attributed to him are miniatures in a series of other Franciscan Choir Books (Bologna, Museo Civico 547a, 553, 549 and Florence, Bargello, Antifonario A46; see Medica 2016, pp. 314-315; Zabeo 2015, pp. 402-405).  Freuler has suggested that, whereas Giovanni planned the cycle, he may have left the final execution to members of his workshop; the miniatures reflect not only the influence of the contemporary Bolognese Master of 1446 but also that of northern Italian manuscript production in Lombardy and the Veneto as can be seen in the work of the illuminator of the Gonzaga Psalter in Paris (BnF, MS lat. 772, see Freuler 2013, pp. 338-345).


Moist and slightly browned, slightly wavy, upper right in the white margin with a small restored void in the parchment, the gold leaf with slight crackles. On the edges of the verso there are adhesive residues of old mounting, in places slightly discolored. Overall in very good condition.


1. Private European Collection

2. Private Swiss Collection


Freuler, Gaudenz. Italian Miniatures from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Centuries, Cinisello Balsamo (Milan), 2013, pp. 312-337.

Zabeo, Laura in: Angelo Tartuferi and Francesco D'Arelli (ed.), L'Arte di Francesco. Capolavori d Arte Italiana e terre d Asia dal XIII al XV secolo (exh. cat.), Florence, Galleria dell’Accademia, March to October 2015, Florence, 2015, pp. 402-405.

Medica, Massimo in: Massimo Medica and Federica Toniolo (ed.). Le Miniature della Fondazione Giorgio Cini, pagine, ritagli, manoscritti. Cinisello Balsamo (Milan), 2016, pp. 314-315.

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