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M3770 Zacharias, Miniature from a Breviary, in Latin, illuminated by Martino da Modena, manuscript cutting on vellum (Ferrara, 1470s-1480s)

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M3770 Zacharias, Miniature from a Breviary, in Latin, illuminated by Martino da Modena, manuscript cutting on vellum

(Ferrara, 1470s-1480s)



1 cutting, 305 x 126 mm. Visible on recto and verso are eleven lines of text written in a large rounded textura. Ruled in light brown ink for horizontals and verticals. Rubrics are red. Text is articulated (recto) with alternating red and blue two-line penwork initials, and selected capitals are delicately flourished in brown ink and touched in light yellow wash. One large historiated initial B (recto), 82 x 104 mm. opens the Canticle of Zachary.  The burnished gold ground and gold bezants have some flaking, but the illumination is otherwise beautifully preserved; colors are rich and bright, and modeling is soft and refined.



The large size of the original manuscript suggests that it was an important commission for a wealthy individual or institution, like the Pontifical made for Bartolomeo della Rovere, Bishop of Ferrara from 1474 to 1494 (Bologna, Biblioteca Universitaria, MS 661), or the twenty-two choirbooks the same bishop had executed for the Cathedral of Ferrara.[1] The presence of a historiated initial at such a relatively minor textual division would imply that the entire manuscript had been lavishly illuminated, with miniatures at major sections of the Breviary. 




Within the initial B the priest Zacharias, father of John the Baptist, raises his right hand in a gesture of speech. As related in Luke 1:5-80, Zacharias had been struck dumb after doubting the angel Gabriel=s message that his barren, aged wife would bear a child. After Elizabeth was delivered of a son, however, as Zacharias named the child John by writing on a tablet, his speech was restored and he burst out in a canticle of praise to God.  Zacharias is dressed in tunic, chausuble, and amice, as befits his priestly dignity. His  long white beard and curling locks, rendered in exquisite detail, establish his advanced age. He stands before a rich blue background of sky with scudding clouds, typical to Ferrarese illumination.  The painted initial B itself is set on a squared burnished gold ground, outlined in black; four gold bezants, also outlined and decorated with black, are tucked into angles between the leaves. Two tones of burgundy were used for the vertical borders of the initial, which are decorated with white tracery in a pseudo-script motif. Long, graceful leaves, painted in blue-green hues and modeled in yellow brushstrokes, complete the initial horizontally and sprout into the left hand margin from the upper and lower corners.  

The colors, decorative devices, and stylistic features of this very fine initial point to an execution in Ferrara in the last quarter of the fifteenth century, by the artist Martino da Modena or a colleague in his immediate circle. Martino was son of the illuminator Giorgio d=Alemagna, who, among other important commissions, had worked on the sumptuous Breviary for Leonello d=Este between 1441 and 1448,[2] as well as collaborating on the spectacular Bible of Borso d=Este (Modena, Biblioteca Estense, MSS Lat. 422B423 = MSS V.G. 12B13) along with Taddeo Crivelli and Franco dei Russi.[3]


[1]. On these commissions, see Federica Toniolo, ed., La miniatura a Ferrara dal tempo di Cosimè Tura all=eredità di Ercole de=Roberti (Modena, 1998), 214B16, cat. no. 37 and 273B87, cat. nos. 60B65; see as well the essay by Berenice Giovannucci Vigi, ALo splendore della Chiesa ferrarese: Jacopo Filippo Argenta, Martino da Modena e Giovanni Vendramin,@ 269B71.

[2].Also known as the Llangattock Breviary, this manuscript was broken up in 1958 and leaves were sold individually, now scattered all over the world in different collections. On this manuscript see particularly Le Muse e il Principe: Arte di corte nel Rinascimento padano, Alessandra Molfino Mattola, ed., 2 vols. (Milan, 1991), 2:190–94, cat. no. 49.

[3].Described and illustrated in Toniolo, La miniatura a Ferrara, 104B113, and object of a luxurious facsimile edition with commentary, La Bibbia di Borso d=Este (Modena, 1977). 



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