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This elaborate leaf is a testimony to several famous stories of early Christian martyrdom, the Medici Popes and their art. It is an example of the dispersal of grand volumes but also of the survival of great leaves. The Missal volumes were either commissioned by Giovanni di Lorenzo de Medici, Pope Leo X (r. 1513‑25), and later accomplished for his paternal cousin, Julius de Medici, his successor as Pope Clement VII (r. 1523-34), or, they were initiated by Clement who then added frequent allusions to his cousin as a commemoration of his Medici predecessor.
Both Medici papal coats of arms, a shield with six balls surmounted by the papal keys and tiara, appear in the lower border of the composition and in the cutting below. In the left and right borders between ovals with half-length figures of evangelists, prophets, or sibyls (?), the monograms of both pontifices are displayed in roundels. Also with the motto of Giovanni di Medici – Suave (sweet) – on scrolls twisted through a yoke, in reference to Matthew 11:30, "For my yoke is sweet and my burden light".
The main scene depicts the story of the martyrdom of St. Clement, the fourth Bishop of Rome. According to the legend, Clement was arrested by Emperor Trajan and condemned to work in the marble quarries on the Crimea. Miraculously, Clement drew water for his parched fellow captives, who then all converted to Christianity. Trajan next ordered Clement to be thrown from a boat into the Black Sea, tied to an anchor around his neck. Here, the tonsured cleric in a white tunic is being pushed over the edge of a boat by two henchmen. Onlookers raise their hands in shock, scream with open mouths, and cover their eyes in horror. One figure, dressed in contemporary, red garments, watches the scene without emotion: He must be Trajan witnessing the execution.
The original group of Missals were purchased, either complete or fragmentary, by Luigi Celotti, a Venetian abbot and art dealer, after the Napoleonic looting of the Sistine Chapel in 1798. He took the books apart and frequently assembled leaves into collages, like the present ensemble and making them appear like an intricate painting. Many of the illuminations from these Missals have survived and are now dispersed all over the world, some as composite arrangements, others as single cuttings.