Christie’s: London, 15 July 2015


AUCTION: Valuable Books and Manuscripts Including Cartography, Christie’s (King Street, London), Wednesday, 15 July 2015.

The following entries are of particular interest:

Lot 15
OFFICE FOR SAINT BERNARDINO OF SIENA, a fragment of 6 leaves, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM [Italy, probably Abruzzo, between August 1471 and May 1472].

187 x 132mm. 6 leaves from a gathering of 8 (lacking ii and vii), written space 110 x 85mm. HISTORIATED INITIAL and TWO ILLUMINATED FOLIATE INITIALS with bar borders (slight marginal spotting and staining, tiny pigment losses). In a black hardback folder.

The historiated initial on the first leaf shows a Franciscan friar offering a book – presumably the book of which this gathering was once part – to a pope. The text which follows on the recto and verso of the first leaf is a fulsome dedication of the newly composed Office of San Bernardino which follows, incompletely, on the following 5 leaves. The dedication makes plain that the Franciscan author has been encouraged by his fellows and superiors to undertake this task to mark the impending Translation of Saint Bernardino’s relics, an honour to the saint authorised by the Pope. This is clearly the PRESENTATION COPY MADE FOR SIXTUS IV, builder of the Sistine Chapel and himself a Franciscan, and can be precisely dated between his election in August 1471, and the date of Bernardino’s Translation, in May 1472.

Saint Bernardino of Siena (1380-1444), a fervently austere member of the Observant branch of the Franciscans, was regarded as one of the greatest preachers of his age. His sermons, particularly castigating luxury, usury and sodomy, played an important role in the reforming religious revival in 15th-century Italy. Intending to extend his influence over the whole of Italy he set out to reach Naples but died in L’Aquila in 1444. The church of San Bernardino was built there to honour him and house his relics and it was apparently to commemorate the translation of his body there in 1472 that the present manuscript was made.

The charming and decorative initial is a rare example of precisely datable illumination. For illumination in Abruzzo see the exhibition catalogue, Illuminare l’Abruzzo: codici miniati tra Medioevo e Rinascimento, Chieti, 10 May – 31 May.

Lots 16 – 17
SIX ILLUMINATED AND HISTORIATED INITIALS FROM AN ILLUMINATED CHOIRBOOK ON VELLUM: (i) John the Baptist, historiated initial ‘V’; (ii) Mary Magdalene , historiated initial ‘N’; (iii) St Michael, historiated initial ‘N’; (iv) the Eucharist, historiated initial ‘P’; (v) the Holy Cross, historiated initial ‘C’; (vi) illuminated initial ‘G’.


On average 75 x 78mm (minor losses and rubbing to the gold and pigment, some darkening of the miniatures); laid down on card mounts, individually framed (the mounts lightly soiled).

The delicate handling of the faces with fine, softly curling hair and the convincing landscapes are those of the artist known as the Master B.F. (fl.1490-1545), the illuminator of a series of choirbooks for the Olivetan monastery of Santi Angelo e Niccolò in Villanova Sillaro at Lodi, near Milan. The stylistic resemblance of the present initials to those cut from the Santi Angelo e Niccolò choirbooks indicates that they were painted at the same time; the original set of probably twenty volumes was broken up in 1799 after the suppression of the monasteries, the initials extracted and dispersed. The Master B.F. – named for his monogram on other initials – remains without universally-accepted identification (see C. Quattrini in Dizionario Biografico degli miniatori italiani, ed. M. Bollati, 2004, pp.438-42), but prestigious commissions for Olivetan houses, including San Vittore al Corpo in Milan, exemplify the importance of this Milanese illuminator, whose debt to Leonardo can be seen in the intricately modelled figuration and craggy landscapes.

Lot 83
DANTE ALIGHIERI (1265-1321). La Commedia. Commentary by Cristoforo Landino (1424-1504), commendations by Marsilio Ficino (1433-99). Florence: Nicolaus Laurentii, 30 August 1481.

Royal 2° (385 x 252mm). Collation: p8 2p6 (p1 blank, p2r Landino’s introduction, 2p3v Ficino’s commendations, 2p6 blank; a10 b8 c-e10 f8 g10 h-i8 l10 m-n8 o-r10 s6 (a1 blank, Inferno text and commentary, engraved illustrations to the first two cantos on a2r and b1v); aa-gg10 hh12 ll-mm10 oo6 (aa1 blank, aa2r Landino’s prologue to Purgatorio, aa3r Purgatorio); A8 B-H10 I6 L12 (A1r Landino’s prologue to Paradiso, verso blank, A2r Paradiso, L10v colophon, L11-12 blanks). 367 leaves (of 372, without the blanks; p8, 2/2-4, a4.7, i3.6, ?ll9-10, mm10, F9,10 and possibly others supplied). 60 (or less) lines of commentary surrounding text, and headline. Type: 4b:115R (text), 5:91R (commentary). 2- to 16-line initial spaces, most with printed guide-letter.

TWO ENGRAVINGS BY BACCIO BALDINI AFTER BOTTICELLI illustrating cantos 1 and 2 of Inferno, 18/19th-century drawings imitating the engravings for cantos 3-19 supplied in pen and ink, traces of graphite and grey washes, pages opening each of the three parts with 18/19th-century illuminated initials on coloured grounds, the first two illuminated pages also with floral borders, opening page with illuminated floral and foliate decoration and two portrait roundels of Dante and Beatrice, most of the supplied leaves rubricated. (Engraving to canto I trimmed at bottom and reinforced on verso, occasional minor stains, repaired marginal tear in mm10, outer margin of p8 extended.) Brown morocco gilt by Roger de Coverly and Sons, gilt edges (minor scratch). Provenance: some early, scattered marginalia – 19th-century bookseller’s description in Italian — S.A. Thompson Yates (1894 bookplate; tipped-in letter to him from William Humphrey, 1903, sending a note on the engravings).

FIRST ILLUSTRATED EDITION OF DANTE, THE SECOND FLORENTINE ILLUSTRATED BOOK AND FIRST EDITION OF LANDINO’S COMMENTARY. This monumental edition was designed as a patriotic celebration of Florentine cultural superiority, made explicit in the prefatory essays by Landino and Ficino. The original plan had been to illustrate all the cantos, but only 19 of the 100 engravings were finally executed. Most copies, including this one, have only the first two engravings, which were printed directly on the page; only about twenty copies are known to contain the other seventeen engravings, which were pulled on separate slips and pasted into the spaces provided. See Hind, Early Italian Engraving I, 99-116. The engravings were previously thought to be based directly on a manuscript (now in Berlin and the Vatican) illustrated by Botticelli for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de Medici, but the manuscript is now accepted to date from the 1490s. Both manuscript and printed edition may stem from an earlier version of Botticelli drawings, now lost. HC *5946; GW 7966; BMC VI, 628 (IC.27094-6); IGI 360; BSB-Ink. D-9; Sander 2311; Arnim 115; Goff D-29.

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