Saturday, 2 May 2020

Missing Initials from the Murano Gradual

The Master of the Murano Gradual is believed, on strong evidence, to have worked for one or both of the Camaldolese houses on the islands immediately adjacent to Venice, at some point between about 1420 and 1450. He contributed to at least two choirbooks: one survives largely intact in Berlin, and one that was cut up before 1838, when a series of cuttings and a leaf appeared in the sale of William Young Ottley.

For various reasons they are of great art-historical interest, and have generated a sizeable bibliography; a recent article observes that 'The enigma and splendor of this anonymous master have captivated art historians and collectors for decades' [1]. But my approach here, of course, focuses on what a study of provenance might contribute to the debate.

I recently had reason to try to find images of cuttings and leaves at the Saint Louis Art Museum. Several were described and reproduced in the Museum's Bulletin in 1992 [2]. Looking at this reminded me that their wonderful Crucifixion of St Andrew cutting from the Murano Gradual, was auctioned by Boerner, Leipzig, on 13 November 1908 [3], as lot 8, with a black and white reproduction:
St Louis Art Museum, 36:1953 [Source]

Two other cutting from the same manuscript are also reproduced in the 1908 Boerner catalogue.  Lot 15 is now at the Cleveland Museum of Art:
And lot 19 is now in the McCarthy collection [4]:

As far as I am aware, this is the earliest known provenance for any of these three cuttings, and I was surprised to realise that this source has been almost entirely ignored in the published literature [5]. The 1908 catalogue purports to represent a collection from the estate of a Leipzig patrician, who may be identifiable in due course, allowing us to trace the provenance further back.

That three cuttings from a single manuscript should appear in a single auction catalogue is not surprising. When a manuscript is cut up, it is common for groups of leaves or cuttings pass from one dealer or collector to another, by sale or gift, in whole or in part. Two groups of Murano Gradual cuttings are well known: sixteen were in the Ottley sale in 1838 [6], and another group of eleven (to which was added a leaf from the Ottley sale), was in the collection of Edouard Kann by 1926 [7], from where it passed in 1930 to the collection of Georges Wildenstein (to which were added at least three more), now in Paris [8].
Edit, 23 November 2020: The 1930 date in the previous sentence is wrong; see this blogpost.
We can be confident that the 1908 catalogue described a group of at least seven Murano Gradual cuttings: in the introduction to the "Miniaturen" section of the catalogue, the St Louis and Cleveland cuttings shown above (lots 8 and 15) are listed as part of a group, which also included lots 5, 11, 14, and others:
'[...] a series of representations of saints
and portraits of bishops [...] of the
Tuscan school (nos. 5, 8, 11, 14, 15 etc.)'
It therefore might be productive to see how many other cuttings can be confidently identified as coming from the Murano Gradual. All of those mentioned in the introduction (plus lot 19, shown above), are attributed to the second half of the 14th century, almost all of them to Siena, and most are described as having musical notation on the back:

Of this group of six, the first, lot 5, is described as an initial S depicting a saint, facing the viewer, with gray curly hair and beard, with his hands crossed over his chest. This sounds a lot like a Murano Gradual initial at the Getty Museum, but is probably not the same one, because the latter is an initial G, not S, and he is a bishop-saint (St Blaise), rather just a saint:
J. Paul Getty Museum, MS 73 [Source]
The next, lot 11, is said to depict a saint dressed in a pink robe with green and white patterns and green lining, which is held together by a gray-brown, white-patterned collar; the light blue under-garment also patterned in white. This description is a perfect match, in every detail, for this Murano Gradual cutting [9]:

Lot 14 is described as an initial S with bishop with a book, but the remaining details are rather generic, so it hard to match it confidently with any of the known cuttings. There are several bishops each in an initial S, two of which are shown below.

That deals with the few lots mentioned in the Introduction. We can also be absolutely confident that other lots in the 1908 catalogue are also from the Murano Gradual.

Lot 32 is described as an initial S: the finely structured letter is in blue, decorated with leaf ornaments in red and green; in the middle there is a bishop in profile, in rich robe, with a long, flowing light-blond beard and a strongly curved nose; he holds the bishop's staff in his right hand and a golden book in his left; his mitre is purple and white with red decoration; the margin of the sheet is painted over by later hand. All these details precisely correspond to a Murano Gradual cutting in a private collection [9]:

Therefore there is a high probability that other lots attributed to the the second half of the 14th century, and Sienese school, are also from the Murano Gradual:

Lot 20 is described as Bishop kneeling in prayer; only the upper half of the body is shown, wrapped in a finely tinted, white and pink robe; the facial expression and the hands clad with gloves are finely executed; the draperies standing out effectively against the glowing, gold-heightened background. This could possibly be describing an initial sold by Maggs in 1951:

Lot 22 depicted a bishop holding a scourge in his right hand and a long black and white patterned crosier in his left. The scourge suggests that the bishop is St Ambrose, and the unusual-sounding black and white crosier recalls (but is not the same as) this initial, among the Murano Gradual cuttings in the Wildenstein collection:

Lot 27 describes an initial S with two bishops in rich robes; one in profile, the other facing the viewer. This sounds as if it is generally similar to (but is not the same as) an initial formerly in the Zeileis collection:

Lot 40 consisted of two initials, each an S. In the middle of the first is a bishop in a blue robe with wide borders and red patterns. In the second a bare-headed old man with long flowing white hair and beard stands in the foreground, with a lively gesticulating young man in the background. These must surely be two of the initials in the Wildenstein collection that aparently did not come from Kann:

Lot 42 describes three more initials depicting unspecified saints, which were sold as a group doubtless because of their comparatively poor condition, the gold having flaked off in places, but the implication is that they belong with the rest of the Murano Gradual cuttings.

What I hope to have achieved here is (i) to have provided some previously-unknown provenance for several of the known cuttings, and (ii) to have provided the evidence for the existence of about another ten that also probably come from the Murano Gradual, apparently unpublished since 1908, and never reproduced.

[1] Bryan C. Keene and Stephanie Azzarello, ‘Uno splendido enigma: Il Maestro del Graduale di Murano’, Alumina, no. 64 (2019), pp. 14–21. I am grateful to Bryan for sharing with me copies of the published article, and the original text in English. The artist is also known by various other names; in the Dizionario biografico dei miniatori italiani: secoli IX-XVI, ed. by Milvia Bollati (Milan, 2004), for example, he is the "Maestro di San Michele a Murano". There are significant differences in style among the cuttings from the Murano Gradual, suggesting the involvement of at least two or three illuminators.

[2] Judith Walker Mann, ‘Medieval Art’, The Saint Louis Museum Bulletin, 20.3 (Winter 1992), pp. 1–68, at 48-67

[3] C.G. Boerner, Leipzig, Katalog Nr. 94, Katalog einer kostbaren Sammlung zum Teil aus dem Nachlasseines leipziger Patriziers: enthaltend eine Sammlung wertvoller Miniaturen des XIII. bis XVI. Jahrhunderts ... Versteigerung: 13. und 14. November 1908. Online here. The descriptions are of varying length; here, for example, is lot 5:

[4] Gaudenz Freuler, The McCarthy Collection, I: Italian and Byzantine Miniatures (London, 2018), no. 78.

[5] The 1908 catalogue was known to Mirella Levi d’Ancona, The Wildenstein Collection of Illuminations: The Lombard School, Storia della Miniatura: Studi e Documenti, 4 (Florence, 1970), pp. 54, 56, where she cites only the three lots (8, 14, 19) that are illustrated, and p. 132, where she tentatively suggests that lot 40 is the Wildenstein cutting shown below, a conclusion I reached independently. In 2017 I brought the 1908 catalogue to the attention of Gaudenz Freuler and he cited it, in passing, in the McCarthy catalogue published the following year (see previous note), but again its broader implications are not explored. I have not scoured the extensive literature for other references to the Boerner catalogue, but the fact that its existence was apparently unknown to the St Louis Art Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art (both of whose cuttings are reproduced), until I brought it to their attention, leads me to conclude that it has indeed generally been overlooked.
Edit, 11 June 2020:
I have now noticed that Levi d'Ancona also cites the Boerner sale on p. 51, in her description of the Wildenstein cutting that matches lot 40. She records that Wildestein acquired the ex-Boerner cuttings in 1912, and the rest in 1946.

[6] Sotheby's, Catalogue of the Very Beautiful Collection of Highly Finished and Illumined Miniature Paintings, the Property of the Late William Young Ottley, Esq. ..., 11 May 1838 and following day.

[7] Amédée Boinet, La collection de miniatures de M. Édouard Kann (Paris, 1926), nos. XXXI-XXXII, pls. XXVII-XVIII and col. pl. facing p. 26.

[8] The Wildenstein cuttings have been published several times; they are discussed and reproduced (several in colour) in Levi d’Ancona, as above. The most up-to-date attributions are in the unpublished gallery guide by François Avril and others, Les Enluminures: Collection Wildenstein (Paris: Musée Marmottan Monet, [2001]). The three Murano Master initials that are apparently not from the Kann collection are nos. 6011 (a bishop-saint), 6023 (St George), and 6031 (an old man praying); one more, no. 6029 (Sts Cosmas and Damian), is perhaps related, but is in a rather different Belbello-esque style.
EDIT August 2020:
I do not think that the frontal bishop in lot 40 at the Boerner auction is by the Murano Master, but the strange old man praying does appear to me to be by him. The Avril et al. attributions are:
M.6011: N. Italy, 1st ½ of 15th cent.
M.6031: Master of the Murano Gradual (Lombardy & Venice), 1st ½ of 15th cent.

[9] It is described and reproduced in Bruce Ferrini Rare Books and Sam Fogg Rare Books & Manuscripts, Medieval & Renaissance Miniature Painting [Catalogue by Sandra Hindman of an exhibition held at Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox Ltd, London, November-December 1988, and at Maruzen Co. Ltd. Tokyo and Nagoya, February-March 1989] (Akron, OH, and London, 1988), no. 14.

[10] Same Ferrini-Fogg catalogue as previous note, no. 13.

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