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Description

This brightly colored initial 'A' from a Choir Book depicts the martyr saints Sergius and Bacchus, both Roman soldiers, in fantastic Renaissance armor. They stand in a landscape holding weapons and wearing brightly contrasting colors with Burgonet-style helmets. The historiated initial is surrounded with flowers and decorated with a red gemstone at top. Under a faint yellow wash to the left of both figures is a partially legible inscription: "Cu(m) fi…," perhaps "Cum figura…" (with figure…), a rare example of instructions to the illuminator.

This miniature is attributed to Attavante, noted by Giorgio Vasari as the most "celebrated and famous of miniaturists." Attavante is known primarily through a series of luxurious Missals and Breviaries illuminated for important patrons, including Matthias Corvinus, King of Hungary. Relatively early in his career, around 1473, Attavante collaborated with Ghirlandaio on a Choir Book, the miniatures of which are now in an album in Rome (BAV, Cod. Ross. 1192). Here Roman soldiers in armor and helmets appear in the background of a miniature with the Finding of the True Cross (f. 22r), comparable to the present miniature. Also comparable are the miniatures attributed to Attavante in the Bible of Federico Montefeltro (Rome, BAV, Cod. Urb. Lat. 1-2), dated between 1476 and 1478, and miniatures in the Missal of Thomas James, illuminated around 1483 (Lyon, BM, MS 5123).

The initial 'A' opens the Feast of Saints Sergius and Bacchus (7 October), probably for the antiphon "A[bsterget deus]." The reverse is written with fragments of two lines of music notation on four-line staves in red, with text in brown ink: "…[n]ostris [concedat v]obis salutem…," from the antiphon Adaperiat dominus cor vestrum, for Saturdays preceding the first Sunday of October. The pigments and parchment are in good condition, with some rubbing to the gold leaf and some isolated smudges.

Provenance:

Paul Durrieu (1855-1925), Paris; acquired privately, 2017.

Literature:

Published in Sandra Hindman, Medieval & Renaissance Miniature Painting, 1988, cat. 18; Friedrich G. Zeileis, "Più ridon le carte": Buchmalerei aus Mittelalter und Renaissance, Katalog einer Privatsammlung, 2001, vol. 1, no. 112; for comparisons, see Annarosa Garzelli, ed., Miniatura fiorentina del Rinascimento, 1440-1525: Un primo censimento, 1985, vol. 2, fig. 846 (historiated initial of the Adoration, ex-Fioratti Collection, New York); Massimo Medica and Federica Toniolo, ed., Le miniature della Fondazione Giorgio Cini: pagine, ritagli, manoscritti, 2016; Jonathan J.G. Alexander, The Painted Book in Renaissance Italy, 1450-1600, 2016.

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