Friday, June 10, 2011

Seville to Chazy in 400 Years

In 1918, before plans for a museum in Chazy had been drawn, Alice T. Miner purchased what would become one of the most extraordinary pieces in her collection. It is double-sided page, or leaf, from a gradual, (a liturgical book containing chants for the Christian Mass), created on vellum, framed with one side showing. This gradual leaf measures approximately 24" x 35". The book within which it was once contained was made large enough for the entire choir to read. The front of the leaf has four lines of text and line staves with musical notations. There is a wide illuminated panel border on all four sides, and the first letter of the first word is an historiated, or enlarged, initial letter "D", with a miniature of Saint Paul seated with pen and scroll. The "D" begins Psalm 69:1, "Deus in adiutorium meum intende" God, come to my aid...

Detail of Saint Paul seated with pen and scroll, The Alice gradual leaf

Alice Miner purchased the gradual leaf through her friend, Frank Gunsaulus, a 20th century collector of rare books, manuscripts, and decorative arts. The manuscript has resided at The Alice since the first years of the museum, and many visitors have marveled at its vibrant colors, showcasing the skill of the illuminator, and how the rich colors have survived all of these years. It was created in Spain between 1430-1490. Alice's gradual leaf was the work of the Master of the Cypresses, so named for the characteristic cypress trees that he created which appear in a series of more than 80 miniatures in twenty-two choir books in the Cathedral of Seville, Spain. Dr. Gunsaulus, a Presbyterian Minister and educator, donated another gradual leaf attributed to the Master of the Cypresses to the Art Institute in Chicago in 1916. Gunsaulus acted as an agent in buying two manuscripts for Alice T. Miner, the gradual leaf and a breviary. You may remember two previous blogs-posts about the breviary in The Alice collection. &

Both manuscripts in The Alice collection were created on a type of parchment - actually on the highest quality of all parchment, vellum. Vellum is made from calf, sheep or goatskin that has been laboriously prepared by stretching, scraping and alternately wetting and drying the skin while stretched. A final stage of prepping the vellum with pumice and talc was often employed. This intense preparation was done to bring the vellum to the right thickness for book pages and to prepare the skin to properly receive ink.

Our Spanish gradual leaf is a stunning piece of art. The historiated initial is 6 1/2 inches tall, exhibiting the captivating detail achieved by the illuminator. The wonderful detail of illumination, the colors used, the very precise lines - all catch the eye as soon as one enters the Spiritual Exhibit. One cannot help but be drawn into the sumptuous initial and the soft expression on Saint Paul's face, his gesturing hand, and the lush colors and folds of fabric of his garb. The illuminated border is comprised of numerous swirling and multi-colored leaf forms.

If you visit the J. Paul Getty Museum in California, The Art Institute in Chicago, Princeton University, or even the Eastman School of Music at The University of Rochester you might view manuscripts created by the Master of the Cypresses. Closer yet, visit The Alice right here in Chazy, New York and enjoy the Spiritual Exhibit where you can study our Master of the Cypresses gradual leaf, or our other spectacular 15th century manuscript, Le Breviaire d'Henri de Lorraine.

The gradual leaf in the Spiritual Exhibit at The Alice

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