A Burial Service in a Graveyard. A large miniature on a leaf from a Book of Hours in Latin, illuminated manuscript on vellum. [France (Paris), 15th century (second quarter)]



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A large arched-top miniature depicting a corpse in a shroud marked with a cross, in a shallow grave in a walled graveyard with two other graves and a graveyard cross, to the left of which stand a group of black-clad mourners behind a young crucifer carrying a tall cross, and a priest in a cope, reading the burial service from a book in his right hand and holding a spade in his left; the miniature above a four-line foliate initial in gold and colours introducing Vespers of the Office of the Dead, the whole surrounded by a full border of semi-naturalistic flowers and stylised acanthus and gold ivy leaf decoration; the verso with a one-sided border and five one-line champie initials with matching line-fillers.

Single leaf, c.190×125mm, ruled (c.97×62 mm) for 15 lines, written in a fine gothic textura; 20th-century pencil numbers ‘3’ (changed from ‘4’), and a folio(?) number ‘27’; the margins somewhat darkened, and with minor smudges and very minor loss of pigment, but overall in fine attractive condition. 

The text of this leaf is that of the opening antiphon and psalm (Ps. 114) of the Office of the Dead. By the fifteenth century the iconography of French Books of Hours had become fairly standardised, but the subjects chosen to illustrate this particular Office continued to vary. Sometimes the Last Judgement was depicted, sometimes the performance of a requiem mass within a church, and sometimes a graveyard procession or burial scene.

There was also scope for variation within each of these, and the illuminator of the present leaf exhibits great attention to detail. They have chosen to include unusual details such as the wooden spade with a metal cutting edge held by the priest, and the situla with aspergillum (holy water bucket and sprinkler) standing next to the graveyard cross. Barely visible, he has drawn a human figure on the grave marker in the background, and a crucifixion ornament on the red grave marker in the foreground. It is even just possible to make out the impression of the facial features of the individual being buried, through their shroud. 


1. The style of illumination, derived from that of the Bedford Master, suggests that this leaf was produced in Paris in about the 1430s.

2. Perhaps removed from the parent volume during the 18th or 19th century, when an English hand wrote "Vigilia Mortuorum. The Burial of the Dead" in the lower margin.

3. Anonymous owner; the leaf was part of an interesting group which included a German cutting (later in the Breslauer Collection, for which see P. Kidd, McCarthy Collection, II (London, 2019), no. 51); a cutting from the Pontifical of Pierre de la Jugie; a cutting attributed to Liberale da Verona (see Susy Marcon, Frammenti d’arte: miniature dalla collezione Ligabue (Padua, 2009), no. 17, where the earlier provenance is given as "Collezione Moscardo e poi Miniscalchi Erizzo (?)"); and two cuttings attributed to Girolamo dai Libri; they were sold as "The Property of a Gentleman" at Sotheby's, 8th December 1975, lots 9–15, the present leaf as lot 14, bought by:

4. Private Collection, Palmerston North, New Zealand, as recorded in M.M. Manion, V. F. Vines, and C. de Hamel, Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in New Zealand Collections (Melbourne, London, New York, 1989), pp. 140–41, no. 171..

Stock Code: 246203

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