Leaf from a Promissione Ducale, the oath sworn by the doge of Venice, with two historiated initials, in Latin, illuminated manuscript on parchment [Italy (probably Venice), second half of fourteenth century, with fifteenth-century additions]
Single large leaf, with double column of 24 lines of a rounded Italian gothic bookhand, capitals with ornamental penstrokes, red rubrics, two large historiated initials: (i) 'S' (opening 'Si autem ad audientiam ...', here opening ch. 90) in pink heightened with white penwork, on blue grounds with trailing white penwork, the whole on brightly burnished gold grounds, enclosing a man and a woman as he attempts to molest her (see below), extensions into the margins formed of coloured acanthus leaves with large gold fruit and bezants; (ii) 'E' (opening 'Et si aliquis ...', here opening ch. 91) as before with a woman inside the initial talking to a man who stands outside of it and appears to be trying to walk away (see below), this with more elaborate acanthus leaves in the central and upper margins again with gold fruit and bezants, some fifteenth- and sixteenth-century marginalia, small chipping to gold in places on first initial, second more seriously affected by flaking from paint of figures, two rectangular discoloured areas at outer edge from last mounting, small spots and stains, else in fair and presentable condition, 327 by 244mm.
1. Produced as a luxurious copy of the text in the fourteenth century, apparently with a historiated initial for every chapter, most probably for the doge himself who swore this oath on coming to office. The additions dated 1413 were added later. The text of these documents was progressively added to after the beginning of their use in the late twelfth century, with each new addition adding to the chapter numbers, and disturbing many earlier chapter numbers from their earlier content. The chapter numbers here place this significantly before the copy which survives for Doge Francesco Foscari (reigned 1423-1457), which has another seven chapters inserted before the text of our ch. 90.
2. Gonnelli Casa d'Arte, Florence, 11 December 2015, lot 135, acquired at that auction by Roger Martin and exported in early 2016 to the United Kingdom with an export license from the Italian authorities.
The subjects of these initials are entirely secular and of great rarity. The first shows a richly dressed man as he attempts to grab a woman, perhaps intimately, as she catches his arm to push it away. This corresponds to the text on the punishment of men who have molested or defiled married women or virgins. The second shows a woman inside the initial talking to a man who stands outside of it as he appears to be trying to walk away, and corresponds to the text on the woman who lives in the house of a man who has extracted a true confession from her of causing fornication.
The illuminator was a follower of two of the leading artists of fourteenth-century Bologna, the 1346 Master ( fl . 1340-50) and Nicolò di Giacomo da Bologna ( fl . 1349-1403), both of whom worked extensively on illuminating statutes and legal codices (see Illuminating the Law , 2001, nos. 20-22; and note the intimate depiction of a couple kissing in an initial on a leaf from a copy of Johannes Andreae, Novella , discussing marriage, that now National Gallery of Art, Washington DC., MS. B-22225). A Venetian doge is unlikely to have commissioned a volume from as far away as Bologna, and the parent codex may have been painted in Venice by an artist who trained in Bologna before practising there.