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Puzzle initial

  • Object:

    Manuscript cutting

  • Place of origin:

    Rhineland

  • Date:

    c.1450

  • Materials and Techniques:

    parchment, painting

  • Museum number:

    E.305-201

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, room WS, case R, shelf 98, box L

This initial, together with another one (E.306-2017) was cut out of a mid 15th-century Rhenish choir book. In the 19th century, they belonged to George Ashdown Audsley (1838-1925), a Scottish author-architect-calligrapher, who produced copies of them (E.304-2017).
He probably made these copies especially for the 1876 Exhibition of Illuminated Manuscripts in Liverpool, organised by the Liverpool Art Club Audsley was a member of. In the exhibition catalogue, the ensemble was described as a ‘FRAME, containing two initials cut from Choral Books of the 14th century. Alongside the ancient letters are modern restorations, showing the original state of the colours’ (Liverpool Art Club's Exhibition of Illuminated Manuscripts, no. 147). The initials were framed and exhibited together with the medieval manuscript cuttings, in a bid to restore the medieval initials to what Audsley perceived was their original state, devoid of fading, blemishes or staining incurred over time. While Audsley adhered faithfully to the size and pattern of his medieval models, he used brighter colours, gave the contours a crisper and more linear outline, and completely eliminated the text.
George Ashdown Audsley was a Scottish author-architect-calligrapher. He established with his brother William James (1833-1907) the architectural firm Audsley & Co., later known as W. & G. Audsley. The brothers were responsible for a great number of Gothic Revival and eclectic style public buildings mainly in the Liverpool area and London. George and William were leading ornamentists who played a key part in the revival of British design initiated by the Great Exhibition of 1851. They wrote extensively on design and architecture using chromolithography to great effect in their books. In 1892 they moved their practice to New York.

Physical description

Puzzle initial ‘U’ in red and blue. The letter is housed within a square, in which there is an intricate background of five-petalled flowers and acanthus leaves. Along the inside edges of the square is a row of intersecting circles. Musical staves of four lines in red ink and notes visible to the right.

Place of Origin

Rhineland

Date

c.1450

Materials and Techniques

parchment, painting

Dimensions

Height: 8.8 cm, Width: 9.5 cm

Object history note

(1) Belonged to George Ashdown Audsley (1838-1925) in 1876, who made copies of this initial and another one in his collection for the Liverpool Art Club's Exhibition of Illuminated Manuscripts see Liverpool Art Club, Exhibition of Illuminated Manuscripts, no. 147).
(2) Purchased by Les Enluminures Ltd from John Hellebrand (Palinurus Antiquarian Books), Pennsylvania.
(3) Purchased by the V&A from Les Enluminures Ltd in 2017.

Descriptive line

Manuscript cutting, initial ‘U’, Germany, Rhineland, c.1450.

Materials

Parchment; Pigments; Ink

Techniques

Painting; Illumination

Categories

Manuscript cutting; Medieval and renaissance

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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