Little jewel of a manuscript from a great moment in Perugian Quattrocento art

This is a little jewel of a manuscript of astonishing originality and beauty, with miniatures like the tiniest of Umbrian panel paintings, echoing the monumental art of Piero della Francesca, Perugino, and Pintoricchio, representative of one of the great moments of Quattrocento art. The illuminations are attributed to a Perugian artist who has recently garnered some attention, Tommaso di Mascio Scarafone (once thought to be identical with Bartolomeo Caporali), who painted the gates of the city of Perugia in the Matricola manuscripts of the Perugian guilds. The provenance in the important Dyson Perrins collection and the manuscript’s inclusion in the landmark exhibition of the Burlington Fine Arts Club of 1908 are noteworthy.

174 ff., complete, collation: paper and vellum endleaves + i12, ii10+1 [f. 13 inserted], iii-ix10, x10+1 [f. 96 inserted], xi10, xii10+1 [f. 121 inserted], xiii-xv10, xvi10+1 [f. 164 inserted], xvii8[of 10, blank ix-x cancelled at end], with horizontal catchwords, modern pencil foliation; 13 lines, ruled in purple ink, written-space 55 x 39mm., written in brown ink in a rounded but sharp- angled Italian gothic bookhand, rubrics in red, headings for the four principal openings written entirely in burnished gold, capitals touched in yellow, versal initials throughout in blue or burnished gold, 2-line initials throughout in burnished gold or blue with penwork in purple or red extending to the full height of the pages, similar initials in the calendar with penwork in both colours; ten historiated initials, 5 to 7 lines high, painted in leafy designs in colours on burnished gold grounds, six of them with elaborate full-length borders of coloured plants and acanthus leaves terminating in burnished gold bezants, four with full borders in similar designs including animals and putti; four full-page miniatures within broad frames of pink or green laurel leaves within burnished gold lines; some occasional rubbing of the text, as common in Italian manuscripts, occasional marginal thumbing, generally in excellent state with wide margins; bound in late eighteenth-century southern European (probably Spanish) red morocco gilt, arms in gilt on covers, spine with four raised bands with flowers and vases gilt in compartments, gilt title “DEVOCION”, edges gilt and gauffered, green silk marker, fitted slipcase. Dimensions 109 x 86mm.


1. The manuscript has been ascribed to Perugia for over a century. The generally sparse calendar includes both patron saints of the city, Saint Ercolano (bishop of Perugia, 1 March) and Saint Lorenzo (in red, 10 August, his name too being second among the martyrs in the litany). Sir George Warner drew attention also to the prominence of Saint Agnes and the presence of nuns in several miniatures, and he suggested that the manuscript might have belonged to a member of the Perugian convent of Sant’Agnese di Porta Sole.

2. The arms on the binding, beneath an ecclesiastical hat and within a cross of the Knights of Malta, were identified by Warner as those of a bishop of the family of Ruiz de Huidobra, of Castile (or, a tree sinople, a border or with 8 crosses sable). No bishop of this family is listed in Gams, Series Episcoporum, in Spain, Portugal or southern Italy. The arms will certainly be identifiable.

3. Charles William Dyson Perrins (1864-1958), manufacturer of Worcestershire sauce, one of the greatest of all collectors of illuminated manuscripts in the twentieth century, bought from S. Rosen in Venice in 1906, with his bookplate and labels at each end; lent by him to the seminal Burlington Fine Arts Club exhibition of 1908 (the collation on the flyleaf is in the hand of [Sir] Sydney Cockerell, the exhibition’s organizer). Dyson Perrins sale, Sotheby’s, 29 November 1960, lot 122; re-sold, Sotheby’s, 5 July 1965, lot 204.


ff. 1r-12v, a Calendar, including Saints Herculanus (1 March) and Laurence (10 August);

ff. 14r-94v, the Hours of the Virgin, Use of Rome, with Matins (f. 14r), Lauds (f. 27v), Prime (f. 42v), Terce (f. 47v), Sext (f. 52r), None (f. 56r), Vespers (f. 60r), and Compline (f. 69r); f. 95 is ruled but blank;

ff. 97r-120v, the Penitential Psalms and Litany;

ff. 122r-162v, the Office of the Dead, Use of Rome; f. 163r erroneously repeats text from the top of f. 165r;

ff. 163v and 165r-169r, the Hours of the Cross;

ff. 169v-171r, prayers, including the Salve virgo gloriosa.


The subjects of the four full-page miniatures are:

f. 13v, the Annunciation, with the Virgin and Angel Gabriel kneeling on opposite sides of a central red pavement receding into the background, with the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove to the Virgin from God the Father in the sky, all against an elaborate building in the background supported on columns and vaulting, with domed towers;

f. 96v, King David, crowned but otherwise naked and sunk up to his shoulders in the ground with his arms upraised, supported by God the Father, who stands above him and holds his wrists, flanked by an angel on either side, all within an arched colonnade supporting a Renaissance pediment, pink turrets, and domes;

f. 121v, Funeral Service, conducted by a bishop and two priests in a Renaissance church of architecture similar to that of the previous miniature, with monks in one aisle and nuns in the other;

f. 164, the Crucifixion, with the Virgin and Saint John standing to other side of the cross, all in front of an orange crenellated wall, with turrets in the distance.

The subjects of the ten historiated initials are:

f. 14, the Virgin and Child, with full border including an antelope, eagle, a medallion in which a young man holds a scroll inscribed AVE MARIA GRACIA PL[ENA], two putti supporting a blue square bearing the inscription ECCE VIRGO MATER DEI, and additional putti, two of whom flank a bowl of fruit;

f. 42v, a female saint, her hands clasped in prayer;

f. 47v, a bearded and bald male saint holding a book;

f. 52, a youthful saint holding a book;

f. 56, another youthful saint holding a book;

f. 60, a female saint holding a martyr’s palm (perhaps Saint Agnes);

f. 69, an old man, bearded and balding, holding a scroll inscribed MEMENTO MEI DOMINE;

f. 97, King David, bearded and crowned, playing a psaltery, with full border including a leopard, a small bird, a medallion of a young man, a medallion in which an old man holds a scroll inscribed DOMINE DEVS, and two putti holding a large vase;

f. 122, a nun, her hands clasped in prayer, with full border including two exotic birds, two medallions of angels, and three putti, two of whom hold torches;

f. 163v, Christ as Man of Sorrows, with full border including a pelican, a medallion of an angel, a medallion of a young man holding a scroll inscribed DOMINE IEXU CRISTI SALVATOR, and two putti carrying a third who holds a bunch of flowers and a pinwheel toy.

This is a little jewel of a manuscript of astonishing originality and beauty, with miniatures like the tiniest of Umbrian panel paintings from one of the great moments of Quattrocento art. Only recently have the illuminators of Perugia received serious attention, for their work is closely related to that of painters such as Benedetto Bonfigli (c.1418-1496, active from 1445) and Gerolamo di Giovanni di Camerino (fl.1449-73); cf. especially J. J. G. Alexander, pp. 109-116; and N. Morgan et al., pp. 146-54, both with further references. The architectural settings here are very striking, probably reflecting actual parallels in Perugia itself, for illuminators were familiar with multiple manuscripts showing the gates of the city in the Matricola manuscripts of the Perugian guilds. The remarkable background of the Annunciation here, for example, with a circular double archway closely echoes the Etruscan arch, or Porta Augusta, as seen from the Piazza Grimana in Perugia (fig. 1). The setting of David being lifted up, not from the sea but from within a cathedral, is possibly unique in manuscript art. The Crucifixion is set before an orange wall.  Compare especially the so-called Bernardino panels of c. 1472 in the Galleria Nazionale dell' Umbria in Perugia, inspired by Piero della Francesca, and assigned to the emerging elite of young Perugian painters, (intoricchio, Perugino, and Bonfigli (fig. 2).

There are intimate parallels with the work of Bartolomeo Caporali (c.1420-c.1505), attributed illuminator of a Missal recently acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art, dated 1469 (John L. Severance Fund 2006.154; cf. S. Fliegel, The Caporali Missal, 2013; fig. 3). In the Crucifixion in the present manuscript (f. 164r) both the Virgin in a black habit over a red dress and the pose and garments of Saint John are strikingly similar to the same figures in the Caporali Missal. On balance, however, the artist of the present manuscript is even closer to the recently identified illuminator, once thought to have been Caporali, Tommaso di Mascio Scarafone or the Montemorcino Master (compare Alexander, op. cit, figs. 1-5; and fig. 4 here).

Particularly extraordinary is the iconography of the miniature depicting David at the opening of the Penitential Psalms (f. 96v). Shown stretching his arms up toward God the Father, who grasps them in support, the naked king appears submerged from the shoulders down in rocky pit. This miniature was probably intended to reflect the content of one of the Psalms (eg. Psalm 39.3: “And he heard my prayers and brought me out of the pit of misery” or, from the last of the Penitential Psalms, Psalm 142.6-7: “I stretched forth my hands to thee ... Turn not away thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit”). Some comparable interpretations of this content appear in other Books of Hours: see, for example, the depiction of David appealing to God to save him from the pit of Hell in London, British Library, Add. MS 37421 (from the Hours of Etienne Chevalier). In our manuscript, however, the indoor surroundings (notably quite similar to the church depicted in the following miniature, f. 121v) frame the scene quite unusually, as though God is lifting David from a grave.

Rich in detail and some unusual iconography, this manuscript’s illuminations reward close examination. The illuminated borders teem with a menagerie of bestiary creatures (an antelope, a leopard, a pelican, etc.) and lively scenes of charming putti, including one holding a medieval toy, a pinwheel typically shown in the hands of children (see, for example, Paris, BNF, MS fr. 218, f. 95) or fools (see, for example, New York, Columbia University, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Typographical MS 2, f. 17).


Published: Exhibition of Illuminated Manuscripts, London, Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1908, p. 122 (no. 252); Warner, George. Descriptive Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts in the Library of C. W. Dyson Perrins, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1920, vol. 1, pp. 166-167 (no. 66)

Further literature:  J. G. Alexander, “The City Gates of Perugia and Umbrian Manuscript Illumination of the Fifteenth Century,” The Medieval Book, Christopher de Hamel Festschrift, 2010, pp. 109-116; and N. Morgan, S. Panayotova and S. Reynolds, Western Book Illumination in the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Cambridge Colleges, II, ii, 2011, esp. pp. 146-54,

Online Resources

“Add MS 37421,” Digitised Manuscripts, British Library, 2016 http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_37421

“New York, Columbia University, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Typographical MS

2,”Digital Scriptorium, 2016 http://ds.lib.berkeley.edu/TypographicalMS2_20

“S. Agnese,” Monastic Matrix, 2016

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