Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies
March 17, 1999
Sandra Hindman, Mirella Levi D'Ancona, Pia Palladino, and Maria Francesca Saffiotti Illuminations in the Robert Lehman Collection Princeton University Press in association with Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997. 256 pp.; 33 color ills.; 217 b/w ills. Cloth $95.00 (0691059713)

At a session on the historiography of illuminated manuscripts held during the recent annual CAA conference in New York, it was generally agreed that the publication of catalogues was of particular importance to the advancement of scholarship in manuscript studies. Exhibitions, exhibition catalogues, and catalogues of collections are essential instruments in manuscript studies, because they bring illuminated manuscripts out of the sequestered environment of rare book libraries and into public view. Of course, the Lehman Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art hardly needs publicity. Only a few of the manuscript illuminations belonging to this celebrated group of objects, however, such as Jean Fouquet’s miniature from the Hours of Etienne Chevalier, are known beyond a limited circle of specialists.

Illuminations in the Robert Lehman Collection presents a selection of twenty-seven of these works, beautifully reproduced and expertly described. Each entry not only contributes to the scholarship on a particular work, but also teaches by example L.M.J. Delaissé’s “archaeology of the book,” which considers miniatures in their “relation to all other aspects of the manuscripts, such as format, handwriting, and decoration.” Delaissé’s point was to encourage the study of illuminations as parts of a whole, the whole being the book for which they were originally designed. Although it was novel in 1968, Delaissé’s approach now sets the standard of scholarly practice in manuscript studies.

The Lehman Collection, however, presents especially difficult challenges to this method, because, like the collection of Bernard H. Breslauer, it is a collection of single leaves and cuttings rather than of bound illuminated books. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, some single leaves were designed from the start to function as independent works of art. Others were designed independently but still intended to serve as book illustrations. The majority of single leaves and cuttings, however, consist of fragments of illuminated books, unfortunately separated from their “parent” manuscripts, which may or may not be preserved. In any case, it is the job of the manuscript specialist to reconstruct the physical as well as historical context in which the leaf or cutting was originally produced. The scholars responsible for the Lehman Collection catalogue show us with great finesse how the job is done.

The Lehman Collection catalogue of manuscripts is organized into two sections, according to region. The first section, “Northern Europe,” is written by Sandra Hindman and includes illuminations by German/Austrian, French, and Flemish artists (numbers 1-14). The second section, “Italy,” written by Mirella Levi D’Ancona, Pia Palladino, and Maria Francesca Saffioti, includes illuminations by artists from Siena, Florence, Venice, and other Italian centers (numbers 15-27). In addition to the individual catalogue entries are short essays introducing the (identifiable) artists. These are especially welcome compilations of biographical documentation and attributed works.

I would like to discuss some of the catalogue entries, but according to a different method of organization, that is, sorted by type of single leaf. This will serve to emphasize the different problems involved with the identification of leaves. It may also serve to clarify some points of ambiguity regarding the various roles of single leaves in manuscript production. I will discuss four types of single leaves.

1. The stray leaf from a manuscript that was originally crafted as an illustrated book. This type of single leaf is basically a page removed from a book, and interrupted text is often (but not always) present on the reverse side of the leaf, which is usually accessible to examination. Sometimes text will also be included on the miniature side of the leaf. The challenge here is to identify either the parent manuscript from which the leaf was removed, or disbursed “sister” leaves from the same manuscript. The discovery of other fragments of the original object may allow a complete reconstruction of it to be proposed.

Sandra Hindman’s leading entry describes an example of this type of leaf, for which she produces a tour de force reconstruction of the original manuscript. This entry is nine pages long and includes sixteen comparative illustrations. This leaf is painted with a full-page miniature of the Adoration of the Magi, one of a set of eight that Robert Lehman purchased in about 1923. In 1936 Hanns Swarzenski stylistically associated the eight leaves with the same parent manuscript, a thirteenth-century Psalter in the Universitatsbibliothek at Innsbruck (Cod. 330). Hindman proves Swarzenski to have been right, through a meticulous examination of a variety of codicological evidence, including measurements, binding, wormholes, needle holes, collation, stubs preserved from cutaway leaves, script, pen scrolls, framing devices, and a consistent use of ornament traced through the binding covers, page edges, and miniatures. The essay is a demonstration of the tools in the codicologist’s toolbox, and how to use them with optimum results.

2. Cutting of a miniature or historiated initial from a manuscript that was originally crafted as an illustrated book. These are not complete leaves, but fragments of leaves, often cropped with disregard for, or to deliberately eliminate, the text that belonged to the illuminated side of the leaf. Fragments of text are usually present on the reverse side of the leaf. Unfortunately, cuttings are sometimes mounted onto other supports, which conceal the reverse side. Cuttings of historiated initials are usually taken from choir books, because of the large size of these books allowed for decoration on a generous scale.

Pia Palladino’s essay on an initial B by the Master of the Codex Rossiano (entry no. 16) demonstrates how to contextualize a cutting from a choir book. The Lehman Trinity in an Initial B is from a Gradual, associated stylistically to an album of cuttings known as the Codex Rossiano in the Vatican (Biblioteca Apostolica 1192). Palladino constructs the artistic personality behind the Lehman cutting as synonymous with the so-called Crakow Master. Punch tools, used to create blind ornament on gold leaf, play an important role in her placement of this artist in the circle of Bartolomeo Bulgarini and Jacopo di Mino del Pellicciaio of Siena.

3. Single-leaf miniature made independently but produced to serve as illustration to a book. This type of single leaf came into use in the early fifteenth century, when illuminators began to make independent single leaves to compete with the versatile and efficient products of printers and printmakers. The innovation of single-leaf miniatures served to streamline manuscript production, because it allowed the illuminator to work separately from the scribe, without concern for the placement of the miniatures in the text. Single-leaf miniatures are often designed without decorative borders, so as not to interfere with the decorative program of the text, which was often carried out by another artist, sometimes in a completely different shop. Usually there is no text on either side of the leaf, although text and borders sometimes occur as additions. When preserved in situ, these leaves are usually “tipped-in” between the leaves of the parent manuscript, and examination of the gatherings will reveal their stubs. Thus they can be removed from the parent manuscript without disturbing the collation of leaves or the continuity of the text. The images may consist of ready-made religious subjects, or they may be works created to personalize the book, such as donor portraits or coats-of-arms. Created in an artistic context that included printed illustration, these miniatures often reveal a compositional relationship to prints.

Entry no.13 in the Lehman catalog is a Pietà painted by Simon Bening, perhaps the most prolific producer of single-leaf miniatures, whose career spanned the first half of the sixteenth century. According to Sandra Hindman, there are more detached miniatures attributable to Simon Bening than to any other artist The parent manuscript for the Lehman leaf is a Book of Hours made for the Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg, preserved in Amsterdam (Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica 40). Hindman suggests that as many as forty-two full-page miniatures by Bening have been excised from the manuscript.

Hindman describes an organization of labor that is typical of the single-leaf method of manuscript illumination. She explains that although the manuscript was written and decorated in Bening’s shop, the half-page miniatures, historiated borders, and border decoration were painted by two assistants. The sixteen disbursed single-leaf miniatures were executed by Bening himself. This arrangement, however, is different from that of another Book of Hours with single-leaf miniatures by Bening at Aschaffenburg (Hofbiblothek Ms. 9), because Georg Stierlyn, who painted the borders and initials, did not work as an assistant to Bening, as Hindman suggests. Stierlyn was an independent scribe and decorator who worked at Halle for Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg. Ms. 9 at Aschaffenburg, which also includes miniatures by Nicholas Glockendon, is an example of how the single-leaf method of manuscript illumination allowed for such flexibility that it was possible to craft a book by artists who may have never even met each other.

4. Single-leaf miniature made independently of any book, intended to serve as a complete representation. Like the miniatures in prayer books, most of these leaves were intended to serve as aids to private devotion, although some apparently served secular functions. The miniatures often bear a stylistic relationship to panel paintings, and some were painted by artists who usually worked on panel. There is usually no text on either side of the leaf, although the back is often concealed by an additional support. Some of these leaves were mounted on cypress panel and varnished from an early date. Contemporary images reveal that single-leaf miniatures were sometimes hung on the wall or displayed in frames.

Sandra Hindman discusses this type of single leaf in her essay on Gerard David’s Holy Face (entry no. 11), but she also acknowledges that this miniature, mounted on walnut which conceals the back, may belong to a Book of Hours by David in the Escorial (c-iii-2). A miniature with a documented history of use as an independent image, however, is the Adoration of the Shepherds by Francisco Marmitta, c. 1500 (entry no. 27). In her essay on this beautiful miniature, Mirellla Levi D’Ancona explains that a letter dated 1591, once attached to the blank back of the leaf, supports the assumption that this miniature was considered an independent work of art from an early date. The letter documents the early provenance of the miniature to include Pope Clement VII (1523-34), Pope Gregory XIV (1590-91), and Christine of Lorraine (1565-1636), who in 1589 married Ferdinand I (1549-1609), Grand Duke of Tuscany. The letter grants a papal indulgence to Christine for praying before the miniature, for the triumph of the Church in the struggle against heresy.

The practice of associating illuminations with indulgences, or time credited against purgatory, is documented by private prayer books produced during the pre- and post-reformation periods, and may well have contributed to the development of independent single-leaf miniatures. A generous indulgence associated with an image would have created a high demand for that image. An image of the Holy Face, for example, could offer the supplicant 30,000 years indulgence for the recitation of a single pater noster. In her essay on Gerard David’s Holy Face, Sandra Hindman confirms that this venerated image was sometimes produced as an independent single leaf.

The Adoration of the Shepherds, given to Christine of Lorraine by Pope Gregory XIV, came with a complete (plenary) indulgence against all of her sins. There is little doubt that this miniature, attributed to Francesco Marmitta of Parma, must have been highly valued for its pastoral elegance and fine technique. But the early history of this work suggests that it may have been associated with a generous indulgence from its inception. The size (244 × 152mm) and painterly monumentality of the Adoration of the Shepherds causes one to consider the relationship between independent single-leaf miniatures and panel painting, and whether there was any difference in purpose between singular illuminations and their counterparts on panel. It is plausible that some illuminators simply tried to compete with panel painters in the market for small devotional images.

But market share does not seem to explain why some panel painters, such as Gerard David or Francesco Morone (his Virgin and Child Enthroned Between Saints Celia and Catherine of Alexandria is entry no. 25 in the Lehman Collection catalogue), produced independent single-leaf miniatures on vellum. Perhaps the traditional association of illuminations with the text of prayers for indulgence served to draw a conceptual distinction between media. Other factors may have included price and portability. This is an issue about which I would have liked to have read a more thorough discussion in the context of independent single-leaf miniatures.

Sandra Hindman’s introductory essay addresses the history of collecting illuminated manuscripts and single leaves. She outlines two different traditions of collectors. One is that of the bibliophile, who collects rare books and leaves in order to build a gentlemanly library devoted to the history of the book. Examples of this type of collector are J.P. Morgan, Robert Hoe, John Frederick Lewis, and Henry Walters, in other words, most of the great American collectors of manuscripts. The other tradition is that of the connoisseur, who collects single leaves as part of a larger collection of works of art. Hindman provides only European examples here, except for Robert Lehman, whose “good taste and practiced eye led him to acquire superior illuminations as Art.”

There is no disputing Robert Lehman’s refined taste or eye for quality. One only need recall, however, the provisions of the Lehman donation, which included that the collection be displayed as objects that belonged to him, to realize that Lehman was not interested in the re-contextualization of art objects as historical artifacts. Nevertheless, Illuminations in the Robert Lehman Collection accomplishes precisely this task, much to the benefit of manuscript studies and followers of Delaissé.

Debra Taylor Cashion
Bryn Mawr College