The Cleveland Museum of Art

Collection Online as of March 24, 2018

Bifolio from an Antiphonary: Historiated Initial O with the Nativity, early 15th Century

ink, tempera, and gold on parchment, Sheet: 56.8 x 38.9 cm (22 5/16 x 15 5/16 in.); Framed: 61.59 x 76.83 cm (24 3/16 x 30 3/16 in.); Matted: 71.12 x 55.88 cm (28 x 22 in.). Andrew R. and Martha Holden Jennings Fund 1976.100

This splendid bifolium (a sheet folded in half to form two leaves) once formed part of an important antiphonary produced for an unidentified Benedictine monastery in Bohemia. With its rich illumination, it provides an important example of Bohemian painting during the opening years of the 15th century as well as painting in the city of Prague, one of the great court centers of Europe. The decoration of the leaf is dominated by a majestic initial O that depicts the Nativity. A scene in the background shows the angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to the Shepherds. The initial itself is placed within a square frame outside of which a single Benedictine monk observes the sacred event. The initial introduces the Latin chants for the first vespers of Christmas Day: O iuda et iherusalem (“Oh Judea and Jerusalem”). Framing the text are luxurious, scrolling acanthus leaves. Within the upper margin, two prophets emerge from the lush, foliated tendrils to observe the nativity below. In this way, the foretelling of the birth of Christ in the Old Testament is established visually.

Kunsthistorischen Museum, Vienna: "Europaische Kunst um 1400" May 7, 1962-July 31, 1962, catalogue no. 183, p. 207.
Cleveland Museum of Art: "Year in Review 1976," Bulletin LXIV (February 1977), p. 74, cat. #27, repr. p. 45.
Cleveland Museum of Art: When Angels Bent Near the Earth to Touch Their Harps of Gold: The Christmas Story, December 1, 1981-January 17, 1982. No catalog.
Cleveland Museum of Art: The Decorated Letter and the Illuminator's Art, September 25-December 19, 1993. No catalog.
Metropolitan Museum of Art (9/19/2005 - 1/3/2006) and Prague Castle, Czech Republic (2/16/2006 - 5/21/2006), "Prague, The Crown of Bohemia", ex. cat. no. 116b, p. 269-270.
Bavarian Nationalmuseum, Munich (5/10/2007 - 9/16/2007), the J. Paul Getty Musuem, Los Angeles (10/30/2007 - 1/20/2008) and Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, TN (2/13/2009 - 6/7/2009): "Sacred Gifts and Worldly Treasures: Medieval Masterworks from the Cleveland Museum of Art"

Cleveland Museum of Art, (11/06/2010 - 04/17/2011); "The Glory Of the Painted Page: Manuscript Illuminations from the Permanent Collections"

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