Both the scribe and the artist of this beautiful manuscript dated their work five times over a period of three years from 1476-1478. Twenty initials with figures and little scenes illustrate the codex; many show ornate foliate extensions, some are painted in gold and rich colours, others in a sophisticated so-called grisaille technique, which uses only grey hues. As the texts refer to the liturgical use for "the choir in Constance" (…secundum chorum Constanciensis ecclesie…), it is likely that the artisans came from the area surrounding Lake Constance. The initials of our manuscript show an inventive and highly skilled artist at work. A delightful and complex narrative unfurls in the margins of f. 87v. It is the most elaborate decoration in this book and accompanies the feast of Nativity. Various interacting elements tell the Christmas story.
There are some similarities between the present manuscript and two others. One is in Basel, UB, B. IX. 36, dated 1479, where we encounter an – apparently unfinished – pen drawing. Interestingly, two of the initials on f. 121 of our Breviary are also outlined in pen drawing. Whether they were not accomplished or meant to stay this way, is unclear. The other related manuscript is in Zürich, Zentralbibliothek, C 131, dated 1480. The closest comparison that we have been able to find, albeit less flamboyantly illustrated, is the Benedictional of Johannes of Venningen, bishop of Basel (1458-1479), in the collection William Alfred Westropp Foyle until 2000.
For a more detailed description of the Christmas page, also see our blog on that subject.