This grand initial B likely prefaced the Introit to the Mass on Trinity Sunday, which begins Benedicta sit sancta Trinitas (“Blessed is the Holy Trinity”). From a monumental Choirbook, the brightly colored illumination is impressive in scale, the faint diagonal crease on its surface detracting little from its overall excellent condition.
Our illumination illustrates the subject of the Trinity as it was first depicted in French and Italian art of the twelfth century. Matthew (28:19), then Saint Augustine in De Trinitade, expressed the doctrine that God is of one nature yet three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Here, God the Father is enthroned and portrayed as an old, white-bearded man, who rests his feet on the terrestrial globe. He holds the lateral beam of the cross on which Christ, his Son, appears. To the right is the dove, symbol of the Holy Ghost. The entire scene is set in the heavens, blue and white clouds and red cherubim surrounding the Trinity in a sort of glorious aureole.
The crisp modeling, the brilliant primary colors, and the decorative forms of the initial and ornament recall the work of Parisian illuminators at the turn of the century, whose models were adapted by printers, such as Antoine Vérard and Germain Hardouyn. Unlike colored prints, however, the extensive use of lapis lazuli, thick highly burnished goldleaf, and red vermillion set off by bright green in our cutting create at the same time harmonious and luxurious effect. The miniature must come from one of the massive sets of Parisian Choir books, such as that ordered by Louis XII and Anne of Brittany for the royal chapel of Sainte Chapelle or those for the Victorines in Paris.