Saturday, 13 June 2020


I have been working recently on various collections of illuminations, including that of R. S. Holford [Wikipedia], attempting to trace the present whereabouts of each item.

In the course of tracing Holford's miniatures, I was reminded that he lent several to the 1862 International Exhibition [Wikipedia] at the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A). The catalogue is available online through Google Books and
Catalogue of the Special Exhibition of Works of Art of the Mediæval, Renaissance, and More Recent Periods, on Loan at the South Kensington Museum, June 1862, edited by J.C. Robinson (revised edition: London, January 1863).
The Holford miniatures were catalogued in detail twice in 1927, each time with numerous reproductions, so we have a very good idea of its contents before dispersal:
Robert Benson, The Holford Collection, Dorchester House, with 200 Illustrations, from the Twelfth to the End of the Nineteenth Century, 2 vols (London: Humphrey Milford).
Sotheby & Co, The Holford Library, Part I: Catalogue of the Magnificent Series of Illuminations on Vellum, Forming Part of the Collections at Dorchester House, Park Lane, the Property of Lt.-Col. Sir George Holford, K.C.V.O. (Deceased) ... 12th of July, 1927.
In principle, therefore, it ought to be easy to identify items from the collection. In practice, however, it is not always so simple.

Some of Holford's loans to the 1862 exhibition
Some of Holford's loans to the 1862 exhibition are going to be very difficult to identify precisely, because the descriptions are brief, and somewhat vague, such as these:
"No. 6,902. Borders from an Italian MS. of the 16th century."
"No. 6,904. Italian border from a MS. of the close of the 15th century."
The next two descriptions provide more clues, but there are dozens of borders attributed to Buonfratelli, mainly from the 1825 Celotti and 1838 Ottley sales, so these identifications are still problematic:
"No. 6,905. Border and two miniatures of elaborate execution, ascribed to Giulio Clovio, but more probably the work of Appollonio di Buonfratelli, circa 1560."
"No. 6,907. A very elaborate border, by the same hand as No. 6,905."
Reading between the lines, I suspect that "ascribed to Giulio Clovio" was Holford's own rather optimistic attribution (or, rather, the attribution of the dealer who sold it to him), and the phrase "but more probably the work of Appollonio di Buonfratelli" was the more objective opinion of Richard R. Holmes, of the Manuscripts Department at the British Museum, who catalogued the manuscripts and illuminations for the 1862 exhibition.

A very similar difference of opinion is apparent in these two entries (emphasis added):
"No. 6,903. Large and finely executed initial R., attributed, but without sufficient authority, to Fra Angelico. Early 15th century."
"No. 6,906. Initial P., the principal subject in [sic] the Nativity, ascribed, but without sufficient reason, to Pietro Perugino. 15th century."
It is tempting to identify the second of these historiated initials in the two 1927 Holford catalogues as a Nativity in an initial P, attributed to the Perugian School, c. 1475–1500:
But as we will see below, this identification would almost certainly be wrong.

What about No. 6,903 mentioned above, the "Large and finely executed initial R., attributed, but without sufficient authority, to Fra Angelico"?

This especially piqued my interest. Even if it is not really by Fra Angelico, it ought to be easily identifiable in the later catalogues of the collection, and yet I could find no trace of it. How is that possible?

The answer came from another Holford loan to the 1862 exhibition, which ought to have been even easier to identify:
"No. 6,909. Allegorical seated figure, with the inscription – "VRBS ROMA," attributed to Mantegna, circa 1470."
No trace of this could be found in the 1927 catalogues, but a bit of Googling led me to the British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts, and the image at the top of this post. The BL description does not include the Holford provenance, or the 1862 exhibition, but does include this:
BL, Add. MS 46365A [Source]
"Inscribed in 19th-century hand on verso, 'J. M. W. 1856 / I. Lwe / "School of Leonardo da Vinci/ Very fine miniature"'."
"John Malcolm of Poltalloch (b. 1805, d. 1893), art collector and landowner: ink stamp on verso 'Malcolm Collection / B.M'.; acquired between the first publication of the catalogue of his collection in 1869 and the second edition of 1876 (see Robinson 1876)." 
Due to Covid-19 I have not been able to go to the BL to examine this in person, but I am absolutely confident that "J. M. W." is in fact "T. M. W.", the initials of Thomas Miller Whitehead [discussed in this post], who collected in many fields of art, but seems to have bought illuminated cuttings especially heavily in 1855 and 1856. Here are some typical inscriptions by him, all from June 1855 and February 1856:

Having bought the "VRBS ROMA" cutting in 1856, he apparently sold it to Holford before the 1862 exhibition; and Holford presumably sold or gave it to John Malcolm between 1869 and 1876. It was "attributed to Mantegna, circa 1470" in the 1862 exhibition, and of the "School of Mantegna or Squarcione" when catalogued [online] for John Malcolm:
BL, Add. MS 46365A [Source]

The preceding item in the John Malcolm catalogue, no. 3, must surely be the "Nativity, ascribed, but without sufficient reason, to Pietro Perugino" in the 1862 exhibition that we considered above:
It is presumably this John Malcolm miniature now at the BL:
BL, Add. MS 35254G [Source]
We can now see why the 1862 catalogue refers to the Nativity as "the principal subject": there is a subsidiary miniature of the Annunciation to the Shepherds at the bottom. Again, the BL cataloguers were unaware of the Holford provenance and the loan to the 1862 exhibition, but they record:
"Inscribed in a 19th-century hand (the same as Add. 35354C verso) 'Attributed by Mr Ottley to / "Pietro Perugino". / Lot 195 at the sale of his miniatures / at Sotheby's May 11 1838. [...]"
Without seeing it, I am confident that the 19th-century hand is again that of Thomas Miller Whitehead. The 1838 Ottley catalogue described the cutting as follows:
"A superb Initial Letter (mounted on pasteboard) of the Nativity, with the three Shepherds in the middle distance, and beautiful Landscape back-ground. In a compartment below, the Shepherds and their Flocks are again represented. The whole enclosed in a mosaic border, in which are introduced six Heads, apparently Portraits, said to be painted by Peter Perugino."
So far, we have found two of the "missing" Holford illuminations in the John Malcolm collection in the later 19th century, and in the BL today. What of the others?

No. 2 in the Malcolm catalogue is doubtless the early 15th century "Large and finely executed initial R., attributed, but without sufficient authority, to Fra Angelico":
This is now also at the BL:
BL, Add. MS 35254C [Source]
The description on the BL website states
"Inscribed in a 19th-century hand (the same as on Add. 35354G [recte 35254G] verso) '1855' and 'By Fra Benedetto / School of Fra Angelico from the Ottley & Woodhouse / Collections 1856 Colnaghi £?- Dec 13th 1855 / The bu[i]lding represents the Or San Michele Florence'"
The 19th-century inscription, dated 1855, is doubtless Thomas Miller Whitehead again.

Though perhaps impossible to prove, it seems like that the unidentified 15th- and 16th-century Italian borders lent by Holford to the 1862 exhibition were later in the Malcolm collection, which included such items as:
"5. A Four-sided Border, from a manuscript formerly in the Vatican, executed in colours.  Date circa 1485."
"9. Five Borders, ornamented with birds, flowers and arabesques, in brilliant colours on a gold ground. Date circa 1500."
"11. The Continuous Border, from a large folio manuscript, painted in delicate colours on gold-dotted ground and enriched with amorini, supporting festoons of fruit and flowers, caryatides, &c. [...]"
In particular, Malcolm no. 6:
"6. Superb Four-sided Border. [...] It appears to have belonged to a volume written for Giulio de Medici, Pope Clement VII., and decorated by the hand of Girolamo dai Libri, circa 1523 [...] In the centre is the letter T., of extreme beauty, with a miniature representing the Cardinal de Medici attended by a chorister performing mass."
corresponds very closely to this Holford one in the 1862 catalogue:
"No. 6,908. A superb border and miniature representing Cardinal Giulio di Medici, afterwards Clement VII.; attributed, with every probability, to the celebrated Girolamo dai Libri [...] Clement VII., who ascended the pontifical throne in 1523 [...]"
It, too, is now at the BL:
BL, Add. MS 35254I [Source]
and it, too, was formerly in the collection of Thomas Miller Whitehead, according to the BL online catalogue.

From all these examples, it seems likely that John Malcolm acquired from Holford all the illuminations that Holford had lent to the 1862 exhibition; that Holford in turn had got all, or most, of them from Whitehead; and that Whitehead had acquired them c.1855/56.

One question that naturally arises, is why John Malcolm acquired these particular cuttings from Holford, and none of the dozens of others in the Holford collection?

I suspect the answer is that the others were not individual loose cuttings, but were bound in a large album, and this is probably also the reason why Holford lent those particular miniatures in 1862.

We get a fleeting glimpse of the bound volume in 1893, when it was exhibited at the New Gallery, on Regent St., London:
The album was open to a miniature of the Four Evangelists, now M.34 at the Gulbenkian Museum:
The album was not to stay bound for much longer, however, and this will probably be the subject of the next post.

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