The Caporali Missal
Stephen N. Fliegel Curator of Medieval Art
The Crucifixion with Facing Decorated Initial T 1469. Folios 185v–186 from the Caporali Missal. Bartolomeo Caporali (Italian, c. 1420–1505) and Giapeco Caporali (Italian, died 1476). Tempera and burnished gold on vellum, 35 x 25 cm (each folio). Bound manuscript (complete), 400 folios. John L. Severance Fund. A missal contains the texts to be recited or sung by the priest and is necessary for the performance of the Mass. Its contents include prayers, invocations, readings, biblical passages, chants, and ceremonial instructions.
In 2006 the museum acquired a sumptuous and historically important manuscript missal, a liturgical service book for the Mass. Known today as the Caporali Missal based on its illuminations attributed to the brothers Bartolomeo and Giapeco Caporali, artists active in Perugia during the second half of the 15th century, the missal can be localized and dated with great precision. From the style of the manuscript’s decoration alone we can deduce that it was produced in Perugia, but the presence of a colophon, or inscription, on folio 400 provides us with additional information about its commission, destined use, and date of production. According to the colophon, the missal was executed for the Franciscan friary of San Francesco in Montone, near Perugia in Italy’s Umbria region. The buildings of the friary are still preserved in this beautiful hillside town, and the missal very likely was intended for use on the church’s high altar. The manuscript’s connections to the Franciscans are evident given the large number of visual and scribal references to that order. The colophon provides the name of the scribe, Henricus Haring, and the precise date of completion, October 4, 1469. Also identified is the name of the friary’s guardian, Stefano di Cambio. Such internal information is rare for medieval and Renaissance manuscripts.
Not every church could afford to own a magnificently decorated missal. Many were quite plain, and lavish decoration represented a major expense. Exquisite illuminated examples from the Middle Ages or Renaissance, many of which survive today in libraries and museums, tended to be produced for wealthy monastic foundations, large cathedral churches, and, in some instances, private chapels where their production costs were borne by a wealthy benefactor.
Of primary interest in the Caporali Missal are the illuminations, extensive for a manuscript missal. Folios 185v–186 reveal the volume’s masterpiece, a two-page deluxe opening to the Canon of the Mass with a Crucifixion scene on the left-hand page and an elaborate Te igitur on the right. Bartolomeo Caporali’s Crucifixion is a magnificent rendering of the traditional scene used to illustrate the Canon of the Mass: a crucified Christ flanked by the Virgin and St. John with two angels. St. Francis kneels at the foot of the cross (attesting to the Franciscan usage of the volume). This introduces the most solemn part of the Mass during which the bread and wine are consecrated. With burnished gold elaborately used throughout, the Crucifixion is nothing short of a panel painting reduced to the scale of the vellum page. It is faced by an equally superb ornamental letter T[e igitur clementissime pater] with highly involved foliate decoration and putti and birds, surely one of the most spectacular decorated letters within a Renaissance missal. Bartolomeo was likely assisted by his brother, Giapeco, a Perugian miniaturist, who completed this extraordinary letter “T” and the remaining illuminations scattered throughout the volume: 31 small historiated initials with various scenes such as the Annunciation, the Nativity, Pentecost, and Saints Peter and Paul. Each of the small initials is further embellished with marginal floral extensions and filigree fillings within some letters.
Painted Crucifix from the Church of San Michele Arcangelo c. 1460–70. Bartolomeo Caporali. Tempera and gold on wood. Church of San Michele Arcangelo, Isola Maggiore del Trasimeno, the Diocese of Perugia. Large crucifixes were suspended over an altar as a visual reminder of Christ’s Passion and death on the cross. In this way, the crucifix also served as a symbol of the Eucharistic celebration taking place on the altar below. The corpus of Christ is modeled with great monumentality and is nearly identical to that painted by Bartolomeo within the canon opening of the Caporali Missal.
The most excellent part of the illumination clearly falls to Bartolomeo, an important documented panel and fresco painter and miniaturist. His hand may be perceived first and foremost in the monumental full-page miniature of the Crucifixion. The central element of the crucified Christ, including Saint Francis kneeling at the foot of the cross, is a masterpiece of rare quality. The corpus of Christ, with its imposing musculature carefully modeled in subtle shades of ochre, yellow, and brown, attests to intensive anatomical studies and the artist’s highly developed sense of naturalism. Christ’s head rests upon his chest to the right, capturing the moment of death, his face mirroring exhaustion. He wears an almost translucent loincloth beautifully draped in soft, fine folds. A monumental painted crucifix from the Church of San Michele Arcangelo on the island of Maggiore in Umbria’s Lake Trasimeno was painted close in time to the missal’s Crucifixion scene and is featured in the museum’s upcoming exhibition. The San Michele cross illustrates key similarities in Bartolomeo’s style.
The exhibition considers not only the Caporali Missal’s exquisite illuminations, but also its broader context as an object of ritual. The missal would have been used in conjunction with other liturgical objects such as the chalice, paten, processional cross, and vestments for the priest. Moreover, it provides an example of Umbrian painting, an important region and Tuscany’s neighbor to the east. Also of interest is the role of the Franciscans, the order for which the missal was made. Because of his simplicity, piety, and devotion to all living creatures, St. Francis (1181–1226) has remained among the most revered and popular saints. Born to wealthy parents in Assisi, he first lived a life of spendthrift luxury but later gave up all worldly goods to embrace an existence of utter poverty. Throughout his adult life the saint experienced mystical trances and visions of Christ. His order spread rapidly throughout Umbria in the years after his death.
Chalice c. 1375. Giacomo Guerrino (Italian, Siena, died c. 1375). Copper and gilt base with silver cup; basse-taille enamels. Loyola University Museum of Art, Martin D’Arcy Collection, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Donald F. Rowe Sr., 1969–18. An inscription around the stem indicates that this chalice was made by the documented Sienese goldsmith Giacomo Guerrino. When viewed by the faithful, its opulence would have given deep meaning to the mystery of the divine presence in the Mass. The Franciscans of Montone may have possessed similar liturgical objects for use at the altar in tandem with the Caporali Missal.
The art of 15th-century Umbria was deeply influenced by Florentine art. Other paintings in the exhibition explore Bartolomeo Caporali’s dependency on Florentine painters like Benozzo Gozzoli (c. 1420–1497). From 1442 until his death, Bartolomeo seems to have worked almost exclusively in his native city of Perugia, where he repeatedly held prestigious offices such as treasurer of the painter’s guild (1457–58), civic prior (1462), and chamberlain to the guild of miniaturists from 1478 onward. His style was greatly influenced by Fra Angelico (c. 1395–1455) and by the younger generation of artists like Gozzoli and Andrea del Verrocchio (1435–1488). The stylistic indebtedness of Bartolomeo to Florentine art is particularly evident in the works of his early and middle career. During his later years, this influence was modified through contacts with Umbrian artists somewhat younger than himself, including Perugino (1446–1524) and Pinturicchio (c. 1454–1513). So far as we know, his important Crucifixion miniature in the Caporali Missal is the only surviving example of his work on vellum.
Cleveland Art, January/February 2013