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Historiated initial from a Gradual for the Camaldolese monastery of San Michele a Murano

  • Object:

    Manuscript cutting

  • Place of origin:

    monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli, Florence (made)
    Florence (made)
    Italy (made)
    Convent of Santa Maria degli Angeli (made)

  • Date:

    1392 -1399 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Master of the Canzoni (formerly attributed to)
    Gherarducci, Don Silvestro dei, born 1339 - died 1399 (attributed to)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Water-based pigment, gold leaf and ink on parchment

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level E, case I, shelf 81, box L

This is one of a series of fragments from choirbooks of a type known as Graduals that were made for the San Michele a Murano monastery in Venice. The majority of these fragments were illuminated by a monk of the Camaldolese Order in Santa Maria degli Angeli in Florence, Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci. At this time, Venice was not a centre of illumination. In 1401, the Dominican nuns wanting advice on the making of books were told by Goivanni Dominici, a Dominican from Florence, to study the choirbooks of Santa Maria degli Angeli, which contained Silvestro’s work. The monastery was the home of a number of scribes, painters and illuminators in the 14th and 15th centuries. They worked both for their own house and for other churches and even secular customers.

Silvestro may have worked as part of a team with some ornamentation done by others. This particular fragment is believed to be the work of an assistant, the Master of the Canzoni. The fragment shows an initial A for the Mass for Easter Tuesday, with a bearded prophet holding a scroll. The drawing seems slightly clumsy, but the illuminator is clearly working in the same style as Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci.

Nineteenth-century enthusiasts altered medieval artefacts to suit their taste. Medieval illuminated manuscripts could be cut up to make them more marketable and pleasing to the collector. Choirbooks from San Michele a Murano in Venice were dismembered for their images. Single leaves survive, but also initials, as here, cut to shape. It is not known when the choirbooks were cut up. The Museum seems to have acquired this piece in the late 1850s.

Physical description

Cut-out historiated initial A in orange, yellow and gold. Acanthus decoration in grey, blue, pink, green and gold stems from the initial. Inside is a prophet holding a scroll, set against a gold background, with a long grey beard and hair and wearing a green tunic and blue-lined grey cloak. The initial introduces an Offertory for Easter Monday.

Text: [Quem queritis surre]xit si[cut dixit, A]lle[luia], from Offertory for Easter Monday; on verso, A [qua spientie potavit]. Introit for Easter Tuesday
Staves of 4 red lines; Square notation.

Place of Origin

monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli, Florence (made)
Florence (made)
Italy (made)
Convent of Santa Maria degli Angeli (made)


1392 -1399 (made)


Master of the Canzoni (formerly attributed to)
Gherarducci, Don Silvestro dei, born 1339 - died 1399 (attributed to)

Materials and Techniques

Water-based pigment, gold leaf and ink on parchment


Height: 240 mm, Width: 170 mm, Height: 37 mm stave

Object history note

Made in Florence at the convent of Santa Maria degli Angeli, for San Michele a Murano in Venice. Bought before 1874 when it was transferred from the Art Museum.
A duplicate number MS.969 was assigned to this object in error and was subsequently cancelled.

Seven fragments, whose date and place of acquisition are unknown, arrived at the South Kensington Museum by an early date; four (2868, 3045, 3074 and 3087) appear in a register recording the internal transfer from the Art Museum to the Library on 6 December 1863 of a group of 241 illuminations, and a further three are recorded in a similar transfer in 1874 (431, 432 and 434). The remaining thirteen cuttings (D.217 to 229-1906) were acquired on 22 June 1906 from Bernard Quaritch for a total cost of £60. Two of them depicting prophets were lost during the Second World War (D.220-1906 and D.223-1906).

Cuttings from the same set of graduals in the V&A collection: 431, 432, 434, 2868, 3045, 3074, 3087, D.217-1906, D.218-1906, D.219-1906, D.221-1906, D.222-1906, D.224-1906, D.225-1906, D.226-1906, D.227-1906,D.228-1906, D.229-1906.

This piece is part of a series of over fifty identified cuttings from two different graduals now distributed through various collections. Related cuttings are in: New York, Pierpont Morgan Library; Stockholm, National Museum; Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett; Paris, Musée Marmottan; Padua, Museo Civico; London, The British Library.

Descriptive line

Historiated initial A with a prophet, from a Gradual for the Camaldolese monastery of San Michele a Murano, Italy (Florence), 1392-1399.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

p. 85.
Catalogue of illuminated manuscripts : Part II, Miniatures, leaves, and cuttings, by S.C. Cockerell and E.F. Strange (London: HMSO, 1908, 1st edition).
pp. 77-78 (as Siena, 15th century).
Catalogue of Miniatures, Leaves, and Cuttings from Illuminated Manuscripts. Victoria and Albert Museum. Department of Engraving, Illustration and Design, by S.C. Cockerell and C. Harcourt Smith (London: HMSO, 1923, 2nd edition).
George R. Bent, 'The Scriptorium at S. Maria degli Angeli and Fourteenth Century Manuscript Illumination: Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci, Don Lorenzo Monaco, and Giovanni del Biondo', in Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 55. Bd., H. 4 (1992), pp. 507-523.
pp. 29, 49, 55.
Mirella Levi d'Ancona, The reconstructed "Diurno Domenicale" from Santa Maria degli Angeli, Florence: Centro Di, 1993.
pp. 155-176.
Kanter, L., B.D. Boehm et al. Painting and illumination in early Renaissance Florence, 1300-1450. New York, 1994.
no. 6.
Watson, Rowan. Vandals and Enthusiasts: Views of Illumination in the Nineteenth Century, London : Victoria and Albert Museum, 1995
pp. 453-521 (esp. pp. 475-486).
Gaudenz Freuler, Tendencies of Gothic in Florence: Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci (Florence: Giunti, 1997).
p. 92.
Watson, R. Illuminated manuscripts and their makers. An account based on the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum. London, 2003.

Labels and date

Cut-out historiated initial A (bearded Prophet) from the Gradual of San Michele a Murano, Venice.
Illuminated by Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci
Florence, 1392-1399
Bought by the Museum before 1863 [1995]

Production Note

Made at the convent of Santa Maria degli Angeli, Florence.


Parchment; Pigment; Gold-leaf


Illumination; Writing

Subjects depicted



Manuscripts; Religion; Christianity; Manuscript cutting; Music

Production Type



Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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