Saturday 14 October 2023

Minor Initials from the Murano Gradual: Two More 19th-Century Albums


In March last year ago I wrote a blogpost about the minor (i.e. small foliate, not historiated) initials cut from the Murano Gradual. For a long time I had been very sceptical that they were indeed from the Murano Gradual -- because their style was so unlike the style of the minor initials that occur on the back of a few of the cuttings of historiated initials -- but when I eventually took the time to look closely at their script and musical notation, the relationship became plain.

I therefore compiled a list of all the Murano Gradual's minor initials known to me: my hope is that, one day, someone will be able to emulate the exercise of reconstruction done by Margaret Rickert in the 1930s ("Fragmentology" is not a new field of study!), which resulted in three publications:

Margaret Rickert, ‘The Reconstruction of an English Carmelite Missal’, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, vol. 67 no. 390 (Sept. 1935), pp. 99-113 (available to those with access to JSTOR here)

Margaret Rickert, ‘The Reconstruction of an English Carmelite Missal’, Speculum, XVI no. 1 (1941), pp. 92-102, pls. I-V (available to those with access to JSTOR here)

Margaret Rickert, The Reconstructed Carmelite Missal: An  English Manuscript of the Late XIV Century in the British Museum (Additional 29704-5, 44892) (London: Faber & Faber, 1952)

It is a masterclass of reconstruction. Not only did she work out the original sequence of the major, historiated initials (a comparatively straighforward task), but was also able, astonishingly, through a painstaking examination of the tiny portions of text preserved on their backs, to put hundreds of the small, minor, initials into their relevant places:


Many of the Murano Gradual's minor initials are stuck down to a backing material, but others are not, and therefore it would in theory be possible to follow Rickert's example:

In the past few months I have learned of two albums of cuttings from illuminated manuscripts, including Murano Gradual initials. I added them to the list mentioned above, but it seems worth drawing attention to them here as well.

The more impressive one was kindly brought to my attention by Helena Szépe in July. It is in the Rossiana collection at the Vatican Library, which was formed by  Giovanni Francesco De Rossi (1796-1854), between about 1838 and his death. (He was therefore collecting from precisely the moment when cuttings from the 1838 Ottley sale were on the market -- though there is no evidence that his cuttings came from Ottley's collection).

Ross. 151 is an album of about 47 individual cuttings stuck singly or in groups to 17 paper leaves, bound in a typical uniform Rossi binding which provides no evidence of ealier provenance. [1] All the cuttings are in the unmistakable style of the Murano Gradual minor initials, but it is perhaps misleading to refer to them as "minor", because several of them are very large. The centimetre scale in this image shows that the album leaves are about 23.5 × 18 cm, and the initial itself about 18 × 14 cm including its extremities:

[As usual, click the images to enlarge them]

The initials are in three sizes, a hierarchy which must presumably correspond to one, two, or three lines of text and music in the parent manuscript. 

A curious feature of the initials selected for inclusion in this album is that the majority of them are the initial "I":

It is as if they have been deliberately selected for their quality as abstract designs, with minimal relationship to the shape of letters of the alphabet, or their origin in a manuscript.

As can be seen in the image above, a few initials contain animals amidst the foliage:


The initials are all stuck down, but I suspect that if one were to look at them in the Vatican reading room with sufficiently strong back-lighting, it would be possible to read the text on the reverse of many of them. This could be especially revealing for the largest initials, preserving the most substantial amounts of text and music.

I found the second album by following-up a lead in a 1996 checklist of MSS at the University of Kansas [2]:

I was especially curious as there are no images of this album in Digital Scriptorium, or the library's own online catalogue record, so I contacted the Kenneth Spencer Research Library, and Eve Wolynes, the Special Collections Curator, answered my queries and very kindly sent me images.

Although very few of the cuttings are historiated, the album opens with a large and very fine historiated initial, facing the 19th-century title-page:
University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS,
Kenneth Spencer Research Library, MS D9

The album contains cuttings of varying shape, size, and style, among which are a few from the Murano Gradual, including the "T" on the left of the middle row on this page:
Kenneth Spencer Research Library,
MS D9, fol. 6r
the C and F in the middle of this page:
Kenneth Spencer Research Library,
MS D9, fol. 27r
and the initials in the right-hand column of this page:
Kenneth Spencer Research Library,
MS D9, fol. 32r
The initial at the lower right has been cut, so it now looks like a letter "C", but the other part of the initial is elsewhere in the album (fol. 31r), and the two pieces can be rotated and juxtaposed to show that the initial was originally a "P":


[1] The album is excluded fro Sylvia Maddalo, et al., Catalogo dei codici miniati della Biblioteca Vaticana I: I Manoscritti Rossiani, 1: Ross. 2–413, Studi e Testi no. 481(Vatican City, 2014), presumably because the album was not considered to be a codex. There is an old handwritten description, digitized here.

[2] Anne Hyde, A Checklist of Mediaeval Manuscripts in the Department of Special Collections, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas, revised  edition (Lawrence, 1996) (PDF available from here).

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