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Manuscript Illumination with the Annunciation in an Initial R, from a Gradual

ca. 1300
Made in Lake Constance, Switzerland
Upper Rhenish
Tempera, ink and gold on parchment
Overall: 4 x 3 1/16in. (10.2 x 7.8cm) Mat size: 10 3/16 x 7 15/16 in. (25.9 x 20.2 cm)
Manuscripts and Illuminations
Credit Line:
Purchase, Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, by exchange, 1982
Accession Number:
  • Description

    Protected by the arching curve of the blue-and-white letter R, the standing figures of the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary are set against a burnished gold background. The barefoot angel wears a simple salmon-colored tunic, belted at the waist, and holds a staff. His right hand raised and his wings outstretched, he addresses the Virgin Mary, who stands before him and lifts both hands as the dove of the Holy Ghost whispers in her ear.

    The letter R is the opening of the Introit, or entrance hymn, "Rorate caeli de super" ("Drop down dew, you heavens, from above"), sung on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, to celebrate the Archangel Gabriel's announcement to the Virgin Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus. The cutting once was part of a Gradual that has been preserved since 1866 in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremburg (Hdscr. 21.897). Dating to about 1300, it was probably painted by the Dominican nuns at the convent of Sankt Katharinenthal on Lake Constance. Common to the Metropolitan Museum's leaf and the Gradual are the foliate terminals of each letter and the concentric circles in its stem, as well as the elongated figures, with their detailed features and hair. Another cutting from the same manuscript is now in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.
    Our illumination was an especially welcome addition to the Metropolitan's collection because of two well-known and stylistically related Middle and Upper Rhenish polychromed wood sculptures, both also the gifts of J. Pierpont Morgan: the Visitation group (17.190.724), of about 1310, attributed to Master Heinrich of Constance, and the Vierge Ouvrante (17.190.185), of about 1300, with paintings on the insides of the hinged panels illustrating scenes from the Infancy of Christ. The exquisite refinement of the faces in the illumination is echoed in those of Anna and Mary in the Visitation group, with their delicate features and smoothly rounded, subtly painted cheeks.

  • Provenance

    L. Salavin, Paris (sold 1982)]; [his sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris (April 22, 1982, lot 267)]; Mrs. Anne Otto Wertheimer, Paris (sold 1982); [her sale, Nouveau Drouot, Paris ( April 22, 1982, lot 267)]

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History