The Life of a Miniature

A new blog series focusing on an item's collection history, November 6, 2020
The Life of a Miniature

The Life of a… series will focus on a particular item, the hands it has passed through and the eras it has survived. When viewed alone, it is easy to become caught up in a manuscript’s beauty, as well as its many intricacies, but it is worth remembering that all of the objects that survive from the Middle Ages and Renaissance have endured a great deal of history. 


In this first instalment, we are showcasing a wonderful item which now holds its place in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles: a miniature from the Missal of Pope Innocent VIII, Giovanni Baptista Cibo or Cybo, 


This crucifixion with lamentation scene shows Christ surrounded by figures of King David and the Prophets. It is a full-page miniature, strikingly illuminated, and undoubtedly was the prefacing image of the Canon of the Mass after its creation in 1482. This would make it the most prestigious miniature in the Missal. The eminent artist of this item was once called the Master of Innocent VIII, but was identified in 1995 as the notable artist Giuliano Amadei. What happened, then, that this mournful, splendid leaf is passed to us in the 21st century as just that – a single leaf?


 Pope Innocent VIII

Though this miniature began its life crowning a Missal that was used in the Sistine Chapel, in 1825 everything changed. At a notorious Christie’s sale, many leaves ripped from books from the Sistine Chapel were sold by Abate Luigi Celloti (c. 1768-c.1846), a Venetian abbot and art dealer. Others from this sale – and from the same Missal - are in several disparate locations, including the British Library, the Musée Condé, and the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm. 


The leaf in question was then bought by John Rushout, Lord Northwick, art collector and landowner, whose family sold it on in 1928, at a Sotheby’s sale. Already, this leaf has passed from the hallowed halls of the Sistine Chapel to two of the foremost British art dealers, but its dazzling history does not end there. The buyer in 1928 was Colnaghi, London, one of the city’s oldest and most celebrated galleries. In 1935 the leaf passed on again to Peter Jaffé, Naarden, the Netherlands, acquired by the private Mendelssohn bank as a wedding present for Jaffé, and with whose family it stayed until acquired by Dr. Jörn Günther. 


A Sotheby's book sale, 1888 

This leaf’s movement throughout the theological and artistic world is indicative of its high value, not only for its fascinating provenance, but also its stunning art. Christ is central, his wounds weeping blood, as the Virgin Mary stands to his left, John to the right, and Mary Magdalene kneels at the base of the cross. The border is a lush cornucopia, and the use of geometric form, including colonettes, makes the scene appear as though it were on an altar with predella. The contrasting colours, highlighting Christ as near-death, serve to emphasise these stately figures, Giuliano Amadei’s style prefiguring the artistic features of the Italian High Renaissance. 


Read more about this item here.


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