Cristoforo Cortese, attributed to (active Venice, c. 1390-before 1445)
This oblong rectangular cutting from a Gradual is decorated with an historiated initial 'D' showing a half-length bearded prophet (Isaiah?) with a burnished-gold halo set against a bold ultramarine blue ground. The initial 'D' opens the introit Dum medium silentium tenerent omnia (When all things were in quiet silence) for Sunday Mass in the Octave of Christmas. The initial is decorated with scallop-shaped leaves and foliates in vibrant colors with a thin white rinceaux set in a burnished gold leaf frame heavily outlined in black, with a swirling spray of foliates and gold leaf in the upper left.
The miniature can be attributed to Cristoforo Cortese, the most accomplished Venetian illuminator of the early fifteenth century. It comes from a dismembered Gradual that can be dated to the earlier part of Cortese's career. The delicate modelling of facial types with long beards painted in small brushstrokes are also found in Cortese's early work, as in a Bust Portrait of a Bearded Man in a Compendium moralium notabilium manuscript at the Getty Museum (J. Paul Getty Museum, MS Ludwig XIV 8, f. 34v). The prophet figure is loosely modeled on Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci's miniatures in a series of Choir Books illuminated in Florence around 1392-1399 that was destined for the monastery of San Michele in Murano. Cortese is known to have "repeated and developed" Don Silvestro's half-length figures in the Choir Books he illuminated early in his career (Freuler 1997, p.455).
Nine related leaves probably from the same series of deluxe Choir Books made for a Camaldolese monastery in Murano can be identified, all with matching stave height (rastrum 25 mm.; see list below) and no doubt illuminated in Venice. The oblong rectangular shape of our cutting is comparable to others in this group, including the two oblong vertical cuttings at the Free Library of Philadelphia (Lewis E M 25:21 and 45:13). 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 (inv. D.637B-1894, numbered in ink "126" in the top corner). Cortese's use of yellow in the related leaves is further indication of a date before or around 1420, as this color appears less often in later works (Panayotova 2012, p. 186). The palette and overall decorative scheme of the initials is also comparable to an initial 'D' with the Entry into Jerusalem in Cambridge (Fitzwilliam Museum, Marlay Cutting It. 20).
The leaf numbered in Roman numerals in red "XXXII" with fragments of three lines of text in brown ink, with square notation on 4-line staves in red ink (rastrum 25 mm.), written Gothic rotunda on the recto "Dum me[dium] / silenc[ium te] / nerent omnia et […]," and the verso with rubrics in red and one initial in blue, "[…]ti sumus. Co(mmunio). Vox in / [rama au]dita est ploratus et ul/[ulatus r]achel plorans filios […]" (part of chant Vox in rama audita est, communion for the Feast of Holy Innocents on December 28). The verso bears an obscured folio number in 18th- or 19th-century(?) brown ink, "32," and is also numbered in pencil "5." The miniature is in good condition with fresh colors, some losses of light green pigment and one spot rubbed at the very top of the foliate spray, the leaf with indication of a fold on the left side, minor cockling, small stains at the edges, modern pencil marks, and remnants of a former paper mount on the verso.
Probably Giuseppe (Joseph) Martini (1870-1944), New York and Lugano, Switzerland (label on back side of former frame "Coll. Martini" with attribution to Attavante and "Florence XV Siècle"); Private French Collection.
Entry into Jerusalem, initial 'D' (Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, Marlay Cutting It. 20)
Saint John the Evangelist, initial 'C' (London, Victoria and Albert Museum, D.637B-1894)
Saint, initial 'G', and Martyr Saint, initial 'S' (Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E M 25:21 and Lewis E M 45:13)
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)
Bearded Apostle, initial 'T', and Standing Saint, initial 'E' (London, Sotheby's, 5 December 2006, lots 68-69; ex-F.G. Zeileis Collection)
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.
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.