The Caporali Missal: A Masterpiece of Renaissance Illumination opens on Sunday, February 17, 2013. In this overview blog, we offer background into the exhibition and why you should see it.
Missal, 1469. Bartolomeo Caporali (Italian, c. 1420–c. 1505), assisted by Giapeco Caporali (Italian, died 1478). Ink, tempera, silver and burnished gold on vellum (400 folios; 3 full-page illuminations; 31 historiated initials); 35 x 25 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, John L. Severance Fund 2006.154
The exhibition  features a recent acquisition that was the creation of brothers Bartolomeo  and Giapeco Caporali. They were artists active in Perugia part of Italy’s Umbria region during the second half of the 15th century. Bartolomeo was a painter and head of one the most important workshops in the city. Giapeco specialized in creating small, discrete works. Together they created the missal for the Franciscan community of Montone, a small hillside town near Perugia.
San Francesco, Montone. Photograph: Silvia Braconi. From the exhibition catalogue.
Missals are sacred, yet functional, books that serve as a script for the complex processions, prayers, songs, and hymns that accompany the Masses celebrated throughout the Catholic year. The Caporali Missal dictates public ritual; its purpose is fulfilled by audience participation. The missal would have been used in conjunction with other liturgical objects such as the chalice , paten , processional cross , and vestments for the priest.
The museum acquired the missal from a rare book dealer in Hamburg, Germany in 2006. Though we cannot account fully for the whereabouts of the Caporali Missal during the past two hundred years, we do know much about its provenance history. The exhibition catalogue offers us the details:
The missal was part of the library of John Webster, a London lawyer and book collector.
Following his death in 1826, his library, including the missal, was apparently purchased by Thomas Edwards (1762–1834), a bookseller in Halifax, West Yorkshire. From Edwards the missal
subsequently passed into the collection of Philip Augustus Hanrott (1776–1856) before resurfacing on the London art market in December 1893, when it was sold by the antiquarian
bookseller Bernard Quaritch.
The Caporali Missal then appeared in the collections of Leo S. Olschki of Florence and Count Paolo Gerli di Villagaeta of Milan (whose ex libris is on the flyleaf) before eventually being acquired by an unidentified Swiss private collector. Dr. Jörn Günther, a rare book dealer in Hamburg, finally procured it,
selling it, in turn, to the Cleveland Museum of Art in 2006.
Why you should see the exhibition? It is an exquisite example of an illuminated manuscript from the Renaissance era. What makes these manuscripts so special? Artists transformed the written page into exquisite treasure with their masterfully decorated initials, exquisite borders, and delicate miniatures. When the missal was acquired, the museum was closed to the public. Now the missal is being unveiled to the public for the very first time. Its true importance is revealed through its colophon or publication mark. The manuscript’s colophon tells us the exact date it was made October 4, 1469.
The exhibition importantly examines the manuscript against the backdrop of Franciscan liturgy and ritual and of fifteenth-century Umbrian painting.
How should you view the exhibition? Be sure to pay special attention to the beauty of the illuminated manuscript and the detail of the colophon. It is also important to understand the object in context: Who was the object created for? How was it used? What was its function?
The exhibition is on view through Sunday, June 2, 2013. Four lectures are featured throughout the run of the exhibition. Topics and details.