King Cyrus Directing the Building of the Temple of Jerusalem, on a leaf from a Bible, in Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum; ?Austria, 1507 or slightly earlier
Very distinctive script on a leaf from a high quality, closely-datable Bible, with flamboyant illumination depicting an unusual subject. A single leaf, , vertical rulings in pale pink-brown ink, horizontals ruled for tops as well as bottoms of minims in plummet, for 2 columns of 34 lines, written in a very high quality gothic bookhand, ruled space c.310×205mm, the text comprising Ezra 1:1–2:62, chapter 2 preceded by a four-line rubric from Bede’s commentary on Nehemiah and Ezra (Migne, PL , XCI, 1850, col.817), the start of Ezra illuminated with a large historiated initial depicting King Cyrus instructing counsellors (the upper fore-edge corner stained and the upper gutter corner water-damaged and repaired, slightly affecting the initial and border decoration).
Provenance : (1) Written and illuminated in Bohemia, Austria, or Germany probably for a Cistercian or Carthusian house, to judge by the use of punctus flexus punctuation, doubtless part of a complete Bible bound in four or five volumes, probably written in or shortly before 1507. The first volume of the set, containing Genesis–Ruth (Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, MS W.805), has always been dated 1507 on the basis of a scribal date at the very end, but it has not previously been noted that the final leaves (comprising a capitula list) are written by a different, presumably somewhat later, scribe. (2) Otto Ege (d.1951): text leaves were included in Ege’s famous ‘Fifty Original Leaves’ portfolios as no 44; another leaf with a historiated initial was sold among the Ege residue at Sotheby’s, 26 November 1985, lot 86 (see S. Gwara, Otto Ege ’ s Manuscripts , 2013, Handlist no 44). (3) Bruce Ferrini (d.2010), inscribed in pencil with his stock number ‘VM 4190’, Catalogue 1, Important Western Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts […] , 1987, no 34. (4) Schøyen Collection, MS 227.
Script : The Bible from which this leaf comes was clearly a high status item, perhaps usually displayed open on a lectern. It seem to have been intended for public reading. The script is very regular, partly helped by the ruling which guides both the tops and the bottoms of the minims with very angular feet to the minims. Several features would have made reading aloud much easier: the letter ‘u’ has a small superscript ‘u’-shape to distinguish it from ‘ii’; there are very few abbreviations other than the standard abbreviation-mark for an omitted ‘m’ or ‘n’, andsometimes for omitted letters after ‘q’ e.g. in the number ‘qui(n)quagi(n)ta q(ua)tuor’; and while dozens of numbers appear on the verso of the leaf, they are all written out in full as words, not numerals.
Illumination : A charming, colourful and distinctive representation of an unusual subject. The 1987 Ferrini catalogue attributed the illumination to Augsburg, c.1500, and compared it to the work of the illuminator Leonhard Beck and the writing-master Leonhard Wagner The style with its bright palette of pinks, greens and blues, and its stocky, animated figures, is certainly very Germanic.