Ink, tempera, and gold on vellum
Sheet: 57.8 x 40.7 cm (22 3/4 x 16 in.); Framed: 72.5 x 55 x 4 cm (28 9/16 x 21 5/8 x 1 9/16 in.); Folio: 72.5 x 55 x 4 cm (28 9/16 x 21 5/8 x 1 9/16 in.)
Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 1939.677
This massive historiated initial A, among the largest painted by Renaissance illuminators, introduces the matins response for the first Sunday in Advent. For centuries this particular Sunday was known as Aspiciens a longe Sunday, since this is the very first chant of the Christian liturgical year to be sung with a special choir, or Schola Cantorum, on that day. The text as well as the image follow the prophecy of Isaiah who foresaw the birth of Christ: Aspiciens a longe, ecce, video potentiam (Long had I been watching. Behold, now do I see God coming in power as in a cloud of light). Within the letter A, Christ is enthroned in majesty surrounded by angels and saints meant to represent the redeemer who is yet to come. The two figures who occupy the bottom curves of the A are Old Testament prophets; on the left is Isaiah who holds a scroll revealing his prophecy: “Behold, a Virgin can conceive.”
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