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Pages of Gold: Medieval Illuminations from the Morgan
June 19 through September 13, 2009

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Adoration of the Magi, in an initial E
Leaf from a Gradual (I), in Latin.
Italy, Florence, Santa Maria degli Angeli, 1392–99
Illuminated by an assistant of Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci for Paolo Venier, abbot of San Michele à Murano
590 x 400mm
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1909; MS M.653.5

The Roman numeral XLVI at the top of the leaf indicates it was originally folio 46 of the Gradual. The initial E begins the Introit to the Mass for Epiphany, which is celebrated on 6 January: Ecce advenit Dominator Dominus (Behold the Lord the Ruler is come). The eldest Magus kisses but does not touch—his hands are covered—the feet of Christ, an event described in the thirteenth-century mystical text known as the Meditations on the Life of Christ. It was Tertullian (ca. 160–230), the Christian writer, who transformed the Magi into kings. Later, as here, they were also differentiated by age and given halos. In the background an attendant tries to calm the camels. The journey of the Magi is depicted in the lower border.


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Nativity, in an initial P
Leaf from a Gradual (I), in Latin
Illuminated by Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci for Paolo Venier,
abbot of San Michele à Murano
Italy, Florence, ca. 1392–1399
590 x 400 mm
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1909; MS M.653.1

The Roman numeral XXXVIII on the recto of the leaf indicates it was originally folio 38 in the Gradual. Here the initial P begins the Introit for the Christmas Mass, which is taken from the Book of Isaiah (9:6): Puer natus est nobis (A child is born to us). The prophet Isaiah may be represented as the upper of two heads on the shaft of the P. The lower head is that of a shepherd. The oval encloses the Nativity, which is staged before a cave with the ox and ass. The Virgin nurses her child, while the prostrate Joseph kisses his foot. The kissing of Christ's foot has its textual counterpart, and perhaps its origin, in such mystical writings as the thirteenth-century Meditations on the Life of Christ, in which the Magi and others are described as kissing his feet and playing with him. At the bottom of the leaf is the Annunciation to the Shepherds with an angel bearing an olive branch (peace to men of good will) and a shepherd playing his bagpipe. Even the sheep are animated.


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Resurrection, in an initial A
Cutting from an Antiphonary, in Latin.
Bologna, last quarter of the fifteenth century
Illuminated by Domenico Pagliarolo.
234 x 245 mm
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1909; MS M.444.

The letter A (of Angelus) is appropriately illustrated with the Resurrection, for it begins an Easter antiphon that was sung at the hour of Lauds (daybreak), the time of Christ's Resurrection. The illustration is based on Matthew 28:2–3: "An angel of the Lord came down from heaven . . . rolled back the stone and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning (thus the flame-colored face of the angel) and his raiment like snow." The artist, who signed himself as Domenico of Bologna (Dominicus Boñ) in white letters above the head of Christ, was the father of Girolamo, also an illuminator. Domenico also painted a Psalter in 1471 and worked with Taddeo Crivelli on the choir books of San Petronio in Bologna. He was active until at least 1497. The leaf was already removed in the nineteenth century, as Pierpont Morgan purchased it in 1910 as part of the Charles Fairfax Murray collection of old master drawings.


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Jesus Stoned by the Crowd, in an initial I
Cutting from an Antiphonary, in Latin
Illuminated by Master B. F.
Italy, Milan, ca. 1500
172 x 168 mm
Purchased on the Acquisition Fund, 1995; MS M.1090

Although many cuttings come from Graduals, this example comes from an Antiphonary, as the verso contains part of the music for the Passion Sunday office. In Graduals the Introits are illustrated, while in Antiphonaries it is the responses for the first lesson. The initial I (of Isti) begins the first response: Isti sunt dies (These are the days).

Here, however, the initial illustrates the third lesson, from the Gospel of John (8:46–59). During a dispute in the temple the Jews accused Jesus of being a "Samaritan and having a devil," asking if he was greater than Abraham. When he responded that "before Abraham was made, I am," they were angered and tried to stone him, but Jesus hid himself and left the temple.

The leaf was lot 15 in the landmark Celotti sale held at Christie's in 1825.


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Virgin and Child with Female Saints
Leaf from a devotional book
Illuminated by Gérard David
Belgium, Bruges, ca. 1500
183 x 133 mm
Purchased by J. P. Morgan, Jr., 1926; MS M.659

This Virgo inter Virgines (The Virgin Among Virgins) was painted by the Flemish painter Gérard David about the same time he did the well-known panel of the same subject that he donated to the Carmelite Convent of Sion in 1509; both share details of style and costume. In the panel, most of the virgins have attributes, while those in the miniature do not, except for the one holding a basket of flowers, which may be Saint Dorothy. Some of the letters on the neckline of the Virgin's dress can be read as "O Maria." Three other leaves in a Breviary in the British Library have been attributed to David.

This miniature once belonged to the poet Frederick Locker-Lampson (1821–1895). After Morgn acquired the leaf, following an earlier practice, Marguerite Duprez-Lahey bound it in full blind-tooled morocco.


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Crucifixion
Leaf from a Missal, in Latin
Illuminated by Springinklee the Elder for Huge von Hohenlandenberg, bishop of Constance
Germany, Constance, ca. 1510
407 x 289 mm
Purchased as the gift of the Fellows, with special assistance of four members of the Board of Trustees, Mrs. Gordon S. Rentschler, and the Arkville Erpf Fund, 1973, in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the Library; MS M.955.

Before the discovery of this Crucifixion, all that had been known of the first volume of Bishop Hugo's four-volume Missal, from which this leaf comes, were eleven historiated initials, now privately owned. The volume became separated from the three others (now in Freiburg), was sold in Geneva in 1832, and broken up. The Crucifixion, which served as an illustration for the Canon of the Mass, has been attributed to Springinklee the Elder, a Nuremberg artist who settled in Constance, where he was active about 1500–1510. He was obviously influenced by Albrecht Dürer, whose paintings and watercolors are recalled by the transparent and luminous quality of the colors found in the drapery and landscape. The portrait of Bishop Hugo, kneeling at the foot of the cross, is similar to the 1502 portrait by a Bodensee artist now in Karlsruhe, and the castle on the hill suggests Meersburg, a residence of the bishops of Constance and Hugo's burial place.

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Background images: Photography by Todd Eberle unless otherwise noted. © 2006 Todd Eberle.