BEGINNING OF THE OFFICE OF THE DEAD
A FINE MINIATURE PAINTING OF A FUNERAL SCENE, FROM A BOOK OF HOURS IN LATIN
Price: 6,500.00 USD
Paris: early 15th century. 178 x 125 mm. (7 x 5"). Text in single column (four lines on recto, 15 lines on verso) in an excellent gothic book hand. A FINE SQUARE MINIATURE SHOWING A FUNERAL SERVICE, two priests reciting from an elevated lectern and next to a large draped coffin, mourners in black seated to the left, the activity taking place inside a space enclosed by elegant columns and under a vaulted ceiling, a lovely four-line initial beneath it in burnished gold and several colors, infilled with ivy leaves in white and orange, other one- or two-line initials in blue with red penwork or (on the verso) in burnished gold and colors, THE MINIATURE SURROUNDED BY AN EXQUISITE FULL BORDER OF IVY LEAVES in colors or gold on painted and hairline stems. Remains of mounting hinge at top, a few speckles, a bit of yellowing, and slight wrinkling in margins, but the leaf very well preserved in general, with no significant flaking of paint and with the gold still bright. Apart from those relatively few copies with illustrated calendars, the miniatures found in Books of Hours are almost entirely devoted to retrospective Bible scenes that are obviously outside the experience of the illuminator; it is only in the present kind of funeral scene at the beginning of the Office of the Dead that we can see a contemporaneous rendering of a scene from the daily life of the Middle Ages. Miniatures that begin the Office of the Dead vary more in iconographic terms than any of the others that recur in the Book of Hours, and while our painting is typical in subject matter and design, it is noteworthy in at least a couple of ways. The frame and border here are beautifully executed in the style of the Boucicaut Master, with much delicate and very elaborate painting, all of which is shown to good advantage inside unusually comfortable margins. And although the miniature itself shows in general a relatively primitive attempt at perspective (for example, the pews and the altar are steeply raked), the presence of the lovely slender column in the foreground, in concert with the darkened vaulting behind the altar, gives the painting a convincing sense of depth.The work here was done by an artist under Parisian influence, and the developed architecture suggests that the painter was familiar with the Burial Services compositions created by Parisian illuminators in the 1410s. (see Millard Meiss, "French Painting in the Time of Jean de Berry: Boucicaut Master," London, 1968, figs. 135-50 and 172-74).