Cristoforo Cortese (active Venice, c. 1390-before 1445)
A half-length miniature of Saint Paul holding a sword and blue book spans the entirety of an initial ‘S’ on this leaf from a Gradual. Paul is crowned with a burnished-gold halo set against a blue ground with white filigree, the multicolored initial ‘S’ is framed in gold, heavily outlined in black, and decorated with two bird heads, one breaking into the border. The initial opens the introit Scio cui credidi (I know whom I have believed), Introit of the Mass for the Memorial of Saint Paul (June 29).
The miniature is securely attributed to Cristoforo Cortese, the most accomplished Venetian illuminator of the early fifteenth century. It comes from a dismembered Gradual that probably dates soon after Cortese’s return to Venice after a brief residency in Bologna. The delicate modelling of facial types with long beards painted in small brushstrokes are found elsewhere Cortese’s oeuvre, as in a Bust Portrait of a Bearded Man in a Compendium moralium notabilium manuscript at the Getty Museum (figure 1; J. Paul Getty Museum, MS Ludwig XIV 8, f. 34v).
Ten related leaves from the same series of deluxe Choir Books are identified, all with matching stave height (rastrum 25 mm.; see Related leaves). Two oblong vertical cuttings are found at the Free Library of Philadelphia (Lewis E M 25:21 and 45:13, figure 2). Many of the historiated initials in this group show figures with red-rimmed haloes, like Saint John the Evangelist in an initial ‘E’ on a full leaf now at the Victoria and Albert Museum (figure 3, inv. D.637B-1894, numbered in ink “126” in the top corner).
The leaf with seven 4-line staves in red ink (rastrum 25 mm.) recto and verso, written in a Gothic rotunda, rubrics in red and initials in blue and red, recto with a former folio number “31” in brown ink, and a partially-erased inscription beginning “XIV...” at the lower edge; the verso numbered in Roman numerals in red “XXXI.” The miniature is in good condition with fresh colors, the leaf with minor cockling, small stains at the edges, modern pencil marks, and remnants of a former paper mount on the verso.
Private German Collection; Private Swiss Collection.
A Prophet, initial ‘D’ (Les Enluminures, MIN 18-30)
Saint John the Evangelist, initial ‘C’ (London, Victoria and Albert Museum, D.637B-1894, figure 3)
Saint, initial ‘G’, and Martyr Saint, initial ‘S’ (Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E M 25:21 and Lewis E M 45:13, figure 2)
Bearded Apostle, initial ‘T’, and Standing Saint, initial ‘E’ (London, Sotheby’s, 5 December 2006, lots 68-69; ex-F.G. Zeileis Collection; see G. Zeileis, “Più ridon le carte,” no. 11)
Entry into Jerusalem, initial ‘D’ (Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, Marlay Cutting It. 20)
Prophet, initial ‘C’ (Bologna, Museo Civico Medievale)
Prophet (Isaiah?), initial ‘V’ (London, Sotheby’s, 5 December 2012, lot 8; ex-Robert Lehman Collection, published in Palladino 2003, no. 39, pp. 75-76)
Bearded Bishop with a Book(?), initial ‘S’ (London, Sotheby’s, 22 June 2004, lot 23)
Unpublished. For comparisons, see:
F. Todini, ed., Una collezione di miniature Italiane, vol. 2, 1994, no. VII.
M. Bollati, in Dalla Bibbia di Corradino a Jacopo della Quercia. Sculture miniature italiane del Medioevo e del Rinascimento, ed. A. Bacchi, Milan, 1997, pp. 128-129 [exhibition catalogue].
G. Freuler, Tendencies of Gothic in Florence: Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci (Corpus of Florentine Painting IV, vol. 7, part 2), Florence, 1997.
G. Zeileis, “Più ridon le carte”: Buchmalerei aus Mittelalter und Renaissance: Katalog einer Privatsammlung von illuminierten Einzelblättern, 2009 , no. 11.
S. Panayotova, “Cristoforo Cortese in Cambridge,” in Miniatura. Lo sguardo e la parola: Studi in onore di Giordana Mariani Canova, ed. F. Toniolo and Gennaro Toscano, Milan, 2012, pp. 186-189.