Although no text on this cutting has been preserved (and the initial I is only partly recognizable), the Creation of Eve likely comes from an Antiphonal leaf celebrating the feast of Septuagesima Sunday, the beginning of the season of Lent leading to Easter. The readings at Matins on Sunday and the following days are the first chapters of Genesis, which recount the story of the creation of the world, the creation of Adam and Eve, and the Fall of Man. The chant begun by the initial would be the responsory: “In principio Deus creavit”.
In this creation scene, the illuminator evokes one of the most important stories of the ancient world, a tradition handed down over the centuries in art and literature. The story of the creation of humanity, male and female, in Western history follows what is written in the Hebrew Bible, and is first briefly mentioned in Genesis 1:27:
“And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them.”
It continues in Genesis 2:21-23:
“Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam: and when he was fast asleep, he took one of his ribs, and filled up flesh for it. And the Lord God built the rib which he took from Adam into a woman: and brought her to Adam. And Adam said: This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.”
Following the Bible text, the scene as depicted in the present initial I takes place in the Garden of Eden, wherein Eve is to be Adam’s companion and both are innocent and unashamed of their nakedness. This compelling Creation of Eve from Adam’s rib quite literally visualizes the text: Adam is asleep and God actually holds a bone-like structure in his hand from which Eve emerges. The illuminator painted a calm, quiet scene with somewhat stocky, voluminous figures with large, broad faces. Dressed in thick drapery, the figure of God receives extra emphasis and a more massive appearance.
This miniature can be attributed to Stefano di Alberto degli Azzi. He was, after Nicolò di Giacomo da Bologna – in whose workshop he was likely trained and with whom he collaborated in important commissions, one of Bologna’s most prolific and sought-after book artists of the second half of the 14th century. In contrast to Nicolò’s expressive, ostentatious manner, Stefano’s style is marked by a rather traditional and solemn rigidity that can also be observed in the miniature at hand. In compressing the figures’ action and in the application of dark outlines and shadows, the illuminator intensifies the drama of this momentous scene. He presents the Lord as considerate and calm and portrays Adam and Eve with dignity and beauty.
Many artists like Stefano found employment in the production of books for the religious institutions and the university of Bologna. The son of the illuminator Alberto di Prendiparte, Stefano probably initially trained in his father’s studio. He is first mentioned in historical records as an illuminator in 1363 and 1368, but none of his works from this period have survived.
Stefano seems to have been at the height of his career in the 1380s, when he gained some notoriety in Bologna. In 1383, he was elected chief district magistrate (podestà) and two years later he is mentioned as the proprietor of three houses in the parish of San Procolo. Two of his known works include the statutes and registers of the Society of Notaries for which he was paid in 1382 and 1387. Other works of the same grave and austere style were recently ascribed by Daniele Guernelli: Statuti dell’Arte dei Barbieri, Petrarch’s Canzoniere, and Aristotle’s Commentary by Johannes Burdianus.