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Description

This cutting from a Gradual shows the day of Pentecost, with Apostles gathered tightly around the Virgin Mary in the “upper room” (mentioned in Acts 1:13) while a dove representing the holy spirit glides through an open window in a flash of light. The finely painted figures are each surmounted with gold halos, pierced by ribbons of flame as described in Acts 2:3, “there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.” The room itself is an exceptional celebration of Renaissance architecture with pristine white marble walls carved with decorative moldings and recessed panels in burnished gold punched with decorative motifs. The miniature is within a green initial ‘D’ painted on a burnished gold ground that begins the responsory Dum complerentur dies Pentecostes, opening the chants for the feast of Pentecost.

Compositionally, the motif of the Dove of the Holy Spirit—seen frontally with a cruciform halo arriving through a window and emanating golden rays—derives from a much-copied woodcut by the printmaker, Master E. S., active in the Upper Rhine region (fig. 1). These attributes, repeated in other Alsatian Pentecost paintings, such as that made for the convent of the Dominicans in Colmar by Martin Schongauer and his entourage around 1480 (fig. 2), suggests that our cutting was painted by an artist in the Alsace. The shape of the acanthus decorating the body of the initial also helps to localize the illumination in the Upper Rhine region, or Alsace. The architectural style of the interior in our miniature firmly places it in the last decade of the fifteenth century or later when Italianate influences predominated in Germany and the Upper Rhine, as seen for example in the scene from Pentecost from the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493 (fig. 3).

At the same time, the painting also repeats physiognomy in the figures of the Virgin and the youthful Saint John with long flowing hair found in Dutch woodcuts, as seen for instance in Crucifixion scene from the Devote ghetiden vanden leven ende passie Jhesu Christi, printed by Gerard Leeu between 1483–1485 (fig. 4; see Dlabačová 2017). As Jeffery Hamburger has shown, Leeu’s woodcuts were popular in the Alsace, influencing for example a series of illuminations produced at the Dominican convent of Underlinden in Colmar around 1500 (Hamburger 2010). The linear style of our miniature, with strong shaping lines and modeling that resembles etching, suggests that it was very finely copied from a print, and that the artist was perhaps also a printmaker.

The miniature is in overall excellent condition, apart from four lines of minor abrasion that run horizontally across the lower half of the image.

Literature:

Unpublished; for comparisons and further reading, see:

Bartrum, G. German Renaissance Prints, 1490–1550, London, 1995.

Bussierre, S. de. Martin Schongauer: Maître de la gravure rhénane, Paris, 1991.

Dlabačová, A. “Religious Practice and Experimental Book Production: Text and Image in an Alternative Layman’s “Book of Hours” Journal of Historians of Netherlandish Art 9, no. 2 (2017). Online Publication.
https://jhna.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/JHNA_9.2_Dlabacova.pdf

Hamburger, J.  “New Fragments of an Alsatian Copy of Jordan of Quedlinburg's Sixty-Five Articles on the Passion” Harvard Library Bulletin 21 (2010), pp. 95–124.

Heck, C. Martin Schongauer, Colmar, 1985.

Shestack, A. Master E. S., Philadelphia, 1967.

MIN 50398

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