The Martyrdom of St. Catherine, in an initial on a choirbook leaf [Southern Netherlands (perhaps Delft), dated 1541 (more probably 1544)].

SOUTHERN NETHERLANDS ARTIST  (1541 [probably 1544])


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Large initial G, opening 'Gaudeamus omnes in domino...' (used for feasts) with gold acanthus leaves on a brown ground, within pale peach grounds and simple, thin frame. enclosing a scene of St. Catherine kneeling before her executioner. Full decorated border in Ghent-Bruges trompe d'oeil style with realistic flowers, a peacock, another bird, a dragonfly and a snail laid down on yellow grounds, one coat-of-arms in the bas-de-page.

Single leaf, manuscript on parchment, 424 x 303mm, framed. Simple red or blue initials, original folio number xxv at head of leaf, red rubrics, 11 lines of text with music on a 4-line black stave (rastrum: 13mm), 1541 added to lower margin in sixteenth-century hand (paint scratched in places, slight discolouration at edges from mounting, excellent condition). 

The scene depicted within the letter G is of St Catherine kneeling before her executioner who stands behind her, ominously, with sword drawn, preparing to strike. The wheel on which she has been tortured - from whence derives 'Catherine wheel' - stands in the background, with the heads of former victims heaped at its foot.

A tonsured Augustinian canon kneels in prayer in the foreground. The legend of the martyrdom of St Catherine describes milk, rather than blood, issuing from her severed neck after her execution as a symbol of the purity of her faith; her execution was the last resort of Emperor Maxentius following a long campaign of her attempted conversion and intimidation by debate - following which she converted many of her interlocutors, along with Maxentius' wife - imprisonment, and torture. 

Provenance: With the arms of Pieter Jacobs van Varick (d. 1598), Mayor of Delft at the bas-de-page, quartered. This leaf was likely part of a manuscript commissioned by a member of the van Varick family (possibly his father Jacob Willemsz) to be used by a religious institution.  The regular Augustinian Canons had a monastery at Delft, named St. Hieronymusdal (St. Jerome's valley) and it is possible that the van Varick family donated the manuscript as the canons also ran the Latin School, and as Dr. Duckers has informed us, the boys at these schools also chanted offices in the town churches. Sadly the monastery itself was destroyed by fire in 1544 and this manuscript is therefore a rare survival.

We would like to thank Dr. Rob Duckers for his help in identifying the arms of van Varick and localising the parent manuscript to the Augustinian Canons of Delft.

Ref: Alex Olzheim, A History of the Van Varick Family, 2013.

Stock Code: 233100

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