An exquisite miniature cutting by an accomplished Lombard artist working within the bounds of the Visconti court.
Anonymous Lombard artist. A prophet in prayer, historiated initial cut from an illuminated choirbook on vellum [northern Italy, late 15th century]
110 x 117mm. Text on reverse covered with paper and illegible with the exception of ‘[afferu]nt in patie[n]tia’: this is likely from second Vespers for Sexagesima Sunday (‘Vobis datum […] et fructum afferunt in patientia’) (some tiny loss of blue pigment, but in excellent condition).
(1) The verso bears the pencil inscription ‘from the Cathedral of Como’. Many of the cuttings that bear this inscription are stylistically attributable to Cremona, and can be traced back to the 1838 catalogue of the sale of William Young Ottley (1771-1836), English collector and Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum. The present cutting was possibly part of lot 74, a group of thirteen cuttings that included a ‘David kneeling’, along with ‘twelve Letters, without figures, from the Cathedral of Como’. The present cutting forms a pair with an initial now at Chazen Museum of Art, an initial ‘D’ with Noah’s Ark (also for Sexagesima Sunday; on this see P. Kidd, https://mssprovenance.blogspot.com/2018/01/a-curious-cutting-at-chazen.html). The two cuttings were sold in the collection of:
(2) Samuel Rogers (1763-1855), poet, banker, art collector, friend of Byron and Shelley: his sale at Christie’s, 28 April 1856, lot 989, the pair of cuttings described as: ‘St. Joseph praying ; and a temple, in a landscape—two beautiful illuminated minatures [sic], in capital letters’. The pair were bought by:
(3) Walter Benjamin Tiffin for 16s.
(4) Thomas Miller Whitehead (1821-1897): his ink inscription and initials on the reverse.
(5) Sotheby’s, 10 July 2012, lot 8.
The straight-bearded figure, his head turned up towards God, echoes the earlier compositions of Lombard illuminators such as the Master of the Lodi Choirbooks (Cambridge, Mass., Houghton Library, Ms. Typ. 983 f.3) and the Master of the Vitae Imperatorum. Our anonymous artist, with his exquisitely detailed modelling of the faces and the robes, is of a later generation, and seems to have been working in the ambit of the Visconti court, with the presence of the Visconti-sun motif below the figure of God reminiscent of the copy of Antonio Minuti, Vita di Muzio Attendolo Sforza, dated 1491 (now Château de Blois, see Dix Siècles d’Enluminure Italienne, 1984, no139), which has similar portraits of Sforza dukes before richly coloured backgrounds heightened with clusters of white dots.
See Peter Kidd’s blog on the ‘cuttings of Como cathedral’ here mssprovenance.blogspot.com Since this post Peter has identified further cuttings with Ottley connections which he published on 9, January 2021. https://mssprovenance.blogspot.com/2021/01/the-hoe-album-iv-more-ottley.html