BEAUTIFUL LARGE ILLUMINATED MINIATURE FROM A 15TH-CENTURY FRENCH BOOK OF HOURS DEPICTING THE NATIVITY
(ILLUMINATED LEAF). Illuminated Miniature featuring the Nativity. France (probably Besçanon), circa 1460. One vellum leaf, measuring 6-1/2 by 9-1/2 inches; silk matted and window framed, entre piece measures 12 by 15 inches. $18,000.
A beautiful, exceptionally large miniature from a 15th-century French Book of Hours that features an image of the Nativity, handsomely framed.
This exceptionally large and vivid image of the Nativity is set within an arched frame, surrounded by a wide and colorful border dense with sprays with gilt bezants, acanthus leaves, leaves, fruits and flowers.The four lines of text begin with a three-line illuminated "D" in gold with inset floriation in red and blue, an additional one-line illuminated letter and a red, blue and gold extender.
With a lovely palette, attractive composition, nearly immense proportions and a delightful sense of narrative, this splendid leaf from a Book of Hours opens the hour of Prime with the Nativity and does so with some charming departures from the expected scene. For one thing, the artist has provided the Virgin with a large, plush mattress covered in bright red fabric as she contentedly nurses her newborn son, despite its presence in an open-air stable with close proximity to manure. (Although this depiction is certainly not unprecedented, it deviates from the normal tableau, which typically shows her kneeling or standing in the night's cold.) Then, in a very rarely seen and immensely charming moment, Joseph stands nearby, drying a large piece of fabric over the heat of the fire—no doubt meant to wrap the naked baby. His attention, however, is focused not on the task at hand, but on his wife and her child, making for a doubly tender moment. Stylistically, this leaf can be localized to the Franche-Comté region in eastern France, and is closely related (if not directly attributable) to an atelier specializing in Books of Hours made for the Use of Besçanon and most likely situated in that city. The similarities are especially apparent in the figures' faces, which are slightly puffy in appearance and have distinct, slit-like eyes. As noted by Avril and Raynaud, the unnamed master of this atelier was deeply indebted to the Master of Morgan 293, a talented Burgundian illuminator active in the second quarter of the 15th century, whose name derives from a particularly lovely Book of Hours made for the Use of Besçanon. In fact, there are certain consonant details between this miniature and the Nativity in the Morgan manuscript: both compositions feature a bright red bed or mattress in front of a green wattle fence with two animals peeking over the top, and the open-air shed is also extremely similar, with a gabled roof pushed up near the top of the composition and long beams—including one that bisects the center of the picture frame—framing the scene. Regardless of the identity of the artist, this immensely charming miniature is an excellent example of a distinct regional style.
In excellent condition. Beautifully framed.