Saturday, 2 April 2022

Cuttings by The Master of the Brussels Initials in the 1910 Stroganoff Catalogue?

In a previous post I showed that a cutting of an initial 'U' with St John the Evangelist by the Master of the Brussels Initials has the remains of the Stroganoff ink stamp on the reverse. Its dimensions were reported as 135×135mm when sold by Christie's in 2017. I suspect that it was lot 627 in the 1910 Stroganoff auction, and that the cataloguer mistakenly identified the evangelist as Luke instead of John:

"U. Ritaglio di corale decorato dalla figura dell'evange-lista Luca.
Contorno ed aureola dorata. Arte Umbra, secolo xv.
m. 0.13 × 0.13"
This hypothesis would be considerably strengthened if the preceding item, lot 626b, were the initial 'S' depicting St Stephen by the Master of the Brussels Initials, now belonging to The Met Museum, but the 1910 description is too vague to make a confident identification:
"S. decorata dalla figura di S. Stefano. Policromata e dorata"

One more cutting by the Master of the Brussels Initials, certainly from the Stroganoff collection (because it has his ink-stamp on the reverse), might have been lot 621:
"O. Ritaglio di corale, con l'effige del Salvatore in atto
di benedire. Aureola dorata. Arte Umbra del secolo xv.
m. 0.95 × 0.10"
At  c.135×100mm this cutting is significantly taller than it is wide -- but far less tall than the 950×100mm reported in the Stroganoff catalogue. An initial more than 9 times taller than it is wide and nearly a metre tall, however, is almost impossible to imagine, which suggests that the dimensions printed in the Stroganoff catalogue are the result of a typographical error. It is also notable that the initial above is an 'E', while the catalogue describes an 'O'; yet such a confusion is easy to understand.

So, it may be that all three, two, one, or none of the above initials are described in the Stroganoff catalogue, and the above comments are therefore rather speculative: there are problems with all three identifications. I try to avoid indulging in unsupported speculation, and have little patience for other scholars' work when it is insufficiently founded on firm facts, but in the present case I think that there is a balance of probability in my favour, because two of the three cuttings above were definitely in the Stroganoff collection, and all three of their subjects as reported in the 1910 catalogue, namely:
  • an initial 'U' with an Evangelist with gilded halo and surround, c.130×130mm
  • an initial 'S' with St Stephen, in colours and gold
  • a cutting of an initial from a choirbook, with Christ Blessing

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