Two unidentified martyr saints, a large historiated initial "I" on vellum cut from a Choir Book. N. E. Italy, c. 1470-

BIRAGO Giovan Pietro (1475.)


Available to view at our Curzon Street shop.

Cutting of manuscript on vellum. The initial (70 x 70mm) divided into two compartments each of which is composed of a half-length figure of martyr holding a book and a palm; the initial painted in green, mauve and orange on a burnished gold ground, border of blue and acanthus, green leaves and gold bezants. With square musical notation. 

Size of cutting: 360 x 101mm. 

This illumination of two martyrs is very close in style to works attributed to Giovan Pietro Birago (c.1450-1513), in particular those of his early years (see the entry under "Birago, Giovan Pietro" in Dizionario biografico dei miniatori italiani, ed. Milvia Bollati, Milan, 2004, pp. 104-110 [L.P.Gnaccolini]).

Birago was a prolific artist whose activity is known from 1471, when he illuminated the choirbooks for the cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore de Dom in Brescia and continued through prestigious commissions (such as the Book of Hours of Bona Sforza, now in the British Library) until at least 1513 when Massimiliano Sforza made his return to Milan.

This cutting of SS. Peter and Paul is almost certainly from a dispersed Antiphonal, possibly made for the Olivetan order, of which 16 fragments are in the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung in Munich, one leaf is in the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin (n. 12930), and one more cutting is in Minneapolis, University of Minnesota, Elmer L. Andersen Library, Ms. 40. These works have been attributed to Birago himself in Ulriche Bauer-Eberhardt (Die italiensche Miniaturen des 13.-16. Jahrhunderts, München, 1984, pp. 47-52), and the attribution has recently been confirmed by Jonathan Alexander ('Giovan Pietro da Birago, illuminator of Milan: some initials cut from choir books', in Excavating the medieval image: manuscripts, artists, audiences: essays in honour of Sandra Hindman, ed. D. S. Areford and N. A. Rowe (Aldershot, 2004, pp. 226-246)).

The facial types in these illuminations as well as the shape of the letter show significant similarities to the works of Birago in the Brescia choir books. The attribution of this fragment to the same manuscript as the Munich cuttings is confirmed by an analysis of the script which appears to be by the same scribe. The cutting was removed from the manuscript at the same time as those in Munich, indicated by the fact that the cutting is a similar shape. They can be dated to the early phase of the career of Birago, probably close in time to the decoration of the Brescia choir books in the 1470's, and are important for illustrating the early style of this artist.

Provenance: Collection of Dr. F. G. Zeileis (see his catalogue: Più ridon carte: Buchmalerei aus Mittelalter un Renaissance, 2004, item no. 118).

A little wear to burnished gold but generally good condition.

Stock Code: 45872

close zoom-in zoom-out close zoom