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Treasures of a Lost Art: Italian Manuscript Painting of the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Treasures of a Lost Art: Italian Manuscript Painting of the Middle Ages and Renaissance

Palladino, Pia
2003
204 pages
169 illustrations
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John Ruskin called manuscript illumination "writing made beautiful." Medieval artists transformed sober liturgical texts into exquisite treasures as they masterfully adorned or illustrated initials, decorated borders, and painted delicate miniatures in radiant "stained-glass" colors. But following the invention of printing in the middle of the fifteenth century, this exacting craft gradually became extinct. Preserved in bound volumes, and rarely exposed to light, even the greatest masterpieces of medieval and Renaissance illumination were seen by few outside the monasteries and churches for which they were created. It was not until the nineteenth century, after Napoleon's invasion of Italy and the dispersal of ecclesiastic and monastic libraries, that the preciousness and rarity of the painted page were once again appreciated. Then, the true "treasures of a lost art," the illuminated initials and leaves that once adorned choir books and hymnals, began to be collected in the same way as old master paintings.

Treasures of a Lost Art presents 144 leaves, cuttings, and illuminated manuscript fragments from the collection of Robert Lehman (1891–1969), one of the largest and most impressive private holdings of Italian manuscripts assembled after the First World War. Discussed here—with many of them handsomely illustrated in full color—are important examples of the major schools of illumination in southern Italy, Umbria, Tuscany, Emilia, Lombardy, and the Veneto. Previously unpublished, and perhaps even unknown to scholars, are works by some of the foremost Italian painters of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, including a leaf here attributed for the first time to the Sienese master Duccio di Buoninsegna and cuttings by Stefano da Verona and Cosimo Tura. Lesser-known artists, such as Neri da Rimini, Belbello da Pavia, and Girolamo da Cremona, once renowned for their beautifully illuminated volumes, are also discussed in full.

The author, Pia Palladino, assistant curator of the Robert Lehman Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, painstakingly examines each leaf, cutting, and fragment and, through detailed, scholarly detective work, places it in the context of its origin—be it a magnificent set of choir books commissioned by a fifteenth-century Greek cardinal, a register of a notaries' guild, or a devotional object illuminated for a Medici pope. The result is a fascinating and thoroughly documented volume of interest to scholars, as well as to museum-goers, which will set a standard for catalogues of this kind.

Met Art in Publication

Manuscript Leaf with the Martyrdom of Saint Peter Martyr in an Initial P, from a Gradual, Tempera and ink on parchment, South Italian
South Italian
ca. 1270–80
Annunciation in an Initial M, Maestro Daddesco (?) Italian, Tempera and gold on parchment
ca. 1310–15
Ascension in an Initial V, Niccolò di ser Sozzo  Italian, Tempera and gold on parchment
ca. 1342–50
The Trinity in an Initial B, Master of the Codex Rossiano  Sienese, Tempera and gold on parchment, Italian, Siena
Probably 1387
Manuscript Illumination with Saint Stephen in an Initial S, from an Antiphonary, Master of the Brussels Initials  Italian, Tempera, ink, and gold on parchment, Italian
ca. 1410–20
Angel with Portative Organ, Cristoforo Cortese  Italian, Tempera and gold on parchment
ca. 1401–7
Angel with Harp, Cristoforo Cortese  Italian, Tempera and gold on parchment, the gold filigree decoration applied on brownish gray bole.
ca. 1401–7
Saint Mark the Evangelist and Saint Sinibaldus Venerated by Members of a Lay Confraternity, Cristoforo Cortese  Italian, Tempera and gold on parchment
ca. 1425–34
Benedictine Antiphonary, Belbello da Pavia and collaborators Italian, Tempera, gold, and ink on parchment; binding: leather over wood boards with copper alloy corner mounts and bosses, Italian
ca. 1467–70
David with His Foot in a Noose in an Initial O, Domenico Morone  Italian, Tempera and gold on parchment
ca. 1500
All Saints in an Initial E or O, Osservanza Master  Italian, Tempera and gold on parchment, Italian, Siena
ca. 1430–40
Martyrdom of Saint Agatha in an Initial D, Sano di Pietro (Ansano di Pietro di Mencio)  Italian, Tempera and gold on parchment
ca. 1470–73
Saint Bernardino Preaching from a Pulpit, Francesco di Giorgio Martini  Italian, Tempera on parchment
ca. 1470–75
Last Judgment in an Initial C, Lorenzo Monaco (Piero di Giovanni)  Italian, Tempera and gold on parchment
ca. 1406–7
King David in Prayer in an Initial B, Zanobi Strozzi  Italian, Tempera on parchment
ca. 1450
Adoration of the Shepherds, Francesco di Marco Marmitta da Parma  Emilian, Tempera and gold on parchment
ca. 1500
Virgin and Child Enthroned between Saints Cecilia and Catherine of Alexandria, Francesco Morone  Veronese, Tempera on parchment; Underdrawing in sepia ink
ca. 1510–15

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Palladino, Pia. 2003. Treasures of a Lost Art: Italian Manuscript Painting of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. New Haven, Conn: Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Press.