This playful initial with two fantastic multi-colored birds decorates a leaf from a Gradual. It is attributed to Don Simone Camaldolese, among the most notable illuminators of late fourteenth-century Florence. The two birds or waterfowl are shown in long-necked hoods and perhaps represent a goose with yellow beak (upper half of the initial) and a duck with an orange beak (lower half). The birds are set on black grounds with white filigree inside a bright yellow frame – here most likely lead-tin yellow, used widely by artists at Santa Maria degli Angeli (see Panayotova, et al, 2016, p. 149). The blue initial ‘E,’ decorated with bright contrasting foliates and framed in gold, opens the chant Etenim sederunt principes et adversus me loquebantur (For princes sat and spoke against me), Introit for the feast of St. Stephen Protomartyr on December 26.

Originally from Siena, Don Simone was a monk at the Camaldolese monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Florence. In the decades around 1400 he undertook commissions from across Italy while he worked in close proximity to the next generation of Florentine illuminators, including Lorenzo Monaco. The type of fantastic bird seen here with the body painted in blended primary colors is considered to be a signature of Don Simone. A similar “duck” appears in the border of a leaf with the Annunciation, today in New York (figure 1; Brooklyn Museum, X 1015; see Kanter, et al, 1994, p. 206). Similar birds appear in Don Simone’s illuminations for a manuscript of Dante’s Divine Comedy (figure 2; New Haven, Beinecke Library, MS 428, f. 54). Elsewhere, strikingly similar waterfowl, also wearing anthropomorphic hoods, appear in the borders of the Missal of Cardinal Angelo Acciaiuoli, illuminated between 1402 and 1405 by a team of artists associated with Santa Maria degli Angeli who adopted the style of Don Simone’s birds in their own work (figure 3, Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 30; see Morgan, et al, 2011, no. 226).

The leaf possibly comes from a series of Choir Books illuminated by Don Simone for the Olivetan convent of San Michele in Bosco in Bologna. A related Choir Book with miniatures attributed to Don Simone but also including miniatures by other painters is found at the Museo Civico Medievale in Bologna (Cod. N. 539; see Kanter, et al, 1994, p. 208-9). Although further study is needed, a probable sister leaf of matching dimensions with a large initial ‘A’ and a small bird’s head in the left border is found in the T. Robert and Katherine States Burke Collection (figure 4).

The leaf with six registers of 4-line square notation in red (rastrum c. 28 mm.) written in a gothic rotunda in black ink, the verso (true recto) with part of a chant ending “preparatio sedis tue” and the beginning of the following chant “Viderunt omnes fines terre” with a blue initial ‘V’ decorated with red penwork, with former folio numbers “XXII” in red and blue in the right margin, “XXI” in red in the upper margin, and “4L”(?) in black ink in the corner. The miniature with some isolated losses of pigments, some gold leaf rubbed, the parchment with remnants of former mounts on the verso, with edges partly lost or trimmed, some cockling, and overall in good condition.

Sister leaf:

Leaf with initial ‘A’ (Ad te levavi), T. Robert and Katherine States Burke Collection, USA, on deposit at Stanford University (figure 4)


Unpublished; for comparisons see:

M. Levi d’Ancona, The Choir Books of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Florence, v. 1, Florence, 1994.

L. Kanter, et al, Painting and Illumination in Early Renaissance Florence, 1300-1450, New York, 1994.

N. Morgan, S. Panayotova, and S. Reynolds, ed., A Catalogue of Western Book Illumination in the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Cambridge Colleges, II, v. 2, London and Turnhout, 2011.

S. Panayotova, et al, Colour: The Art & Science of Illuminated Manuscripts, London and Turnhout, 2016.

Online resources:

Missal of Cardinal Angelo Acciaiuoli, at Illuminated: Manuscripts in the Making


Leaf with initial ‘A,’ T. from the Robert & Katherine States Burke Collection of late medieval and early Renaissance Miniatures, 1175-1510 (Stanford Digital Repository)


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