David and Goliath. Historiated initial 'B' from the Gradual of Anne of Brittany and Louis XII.



Available to view at our Curzon Street shop.


Illuminated MS on vellum. Cutting size: 352 x 292mm.  Large, historiated initial ‘B’ in dark blue with lighter blue panels and white penwork, for Psalm 1, ‘Beatus vir’, containing scene with Goliath in the foreground in golden armour, falling to the ground as he is struck on the head with a stone from David’s sling, who is depicted standing by a rocky path in the middle ground, sheep at his feet; an army encamped in the background, gathered in front of their decorated tents, all within a floral border of green, blue and red ivy on burnished gold ground, one illuminated initial ‘S’, 10 fragmentary lines of text, 1 of which with music on a four-line stave, all enclosed within sumptuously decorated border of foliage and flowers – thistles, carnations - on white and yellow ground with bird – a jay? – at head; verso with 12 lines of text, 3 penwork initials and one rubric in red (minor rubbing to sky and army encampment, overall excellent condition).

A lavish historiated initial ‘B’ depicting David’s triumph over Goliath, from an extraordinary Royal Gradual made around the turn of the sixteenth century for Anne of Brittany and Louis XII of France, for use in the Sainte-Chapelle.

The present cutting is one of several, luxuriously illuminated large initials or full leaves from this choir book recorded in collections – including a historiated initial ‘G’ with Louis and Anne receiving the Crown of Thorns (Nantes, Musée Dobrée); a complete leaf at the Morgan Library (MS.M.1199, fig.2) and others at Cambridge and Wellesley College – and on the market (including a border with emblems and an initial ‘A’, and an initial ‘T’ depicting the dedication of a church (both Les Enluminures); an historiated initial ‘S’ opening the Mass for a Confessor ((Maggs, Manuscripts & Illumination, 2015) and further cuttings at Christies and Sotheby’s).

The scene is brilliantly evocative – the fallen Goliath, eyes narrowed at the impact of the rock, even his teeth visible, is the image of helplessness in contrast with a triumphant David, looking on with sling poised confidently in midair. The Master of Philippe of Guelders, named after a Grande Vie de Jesus Christ painted for Philippe of Guelders, wife of René II de Lorraine (Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon Ms 5125) and identified by former Morgan Library curator John Plummer, worked on many other French royal commissions in the early sixteenth century. One of several Parisian illuminators to have worked on this monumental choir book, his style is characterised by wide-eyed figures with round faces, long noses and small, red mouths, along with a vibrant palette of blues and golds, maroons and greens. 

Stock Code: 251115

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