Charming Dutch Historiated Initial by a Delft Master


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PRICE: $4850


Nativity from a Book of Hours in Dutch Illuminated by the “Masters of the Delft Half-Length Figures,” a workshop or undifferentiated group of artists from Delft (between Rotterdam and The Hague). Single folio on vellum. The Netherlands, Delft, ca. 1470: 175 mm x 125 mm (justification, 94 mm x 63 mm). Ruled in diluted black ink. Single column, 21 lines. Decoration: a historiated eight-line initial E measuring approx. 32 mm x 32 mm filled with a scene of the Nativity. A primitive wood and thatch structure supported on thin columns perches in a verdant landscape with shrubs and a large tree in the background. Below the structure Mary and Joseph flank the Christ child lying on the ground. The Star of Bethlehem shines above, while the ox and ass look on. Curiously, Joseph holds a lit candle. In the right margin is one of the “half-length figures,” an angel clothed in white who bears clasped hands and wings of green and gold. Above him a folded banderole proclaims, “gloria in excelsis deo et in terra” in blue ink. The margins are filled with intricate red and white block penwork borders of Delft style, highlighted by small coppery-gold drops. The verso has no decoration. The text bears alternating red and blue one-line initials.

Identifiable by the half-length figures in the outer borders of his manuscripts, the Masters of the Delft Half-Length Figures were active from 1450 to 1480. This artist also decorated The Hague, KB 135 E 22, a Book of Hours. Related manuscripts are identified in James Marrow, The Golden Age of Dutch Manuscript Painting (New York, 1990), 194-97 (cat. 57-60).

Text: The rubric indicates sequences and hymns for Christmas Day, inc., “Eya laet ons mit goddienstigen loue ouerdanc,” etc. The texts are translated into Dutch. Provenance: Leaves of this manuscript have been appearing in a steady stream over the past decade or more, and one other known to me can be found at the Pitts Theology Library, Emory University. While the parent manuscript has never been located, a Delft Hours once held by the Springfield Public Library (Mass.) has the exact page dimensions, justification measurements and number of lines (see Christie’s, 6 June 2006 lot 50). Even before it was sold, however, this manuscript was missing all its major decoration (see S. de Ricci and W. J. Wilson, Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada (New York, 1935), vol. 1, p. 1066). It seems likely that this and other historiated initials lately on the market somehow derive from this manuscript. Collection of Alexander E. Vida of Grosse Pointe Farms, MI (d. 2018) and by descent. Condition: excellent—fresh and vibrant colors; hardly any blemishes at all, except hinge residue on the verso.

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