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Historiated initial with St Giustina disputing with Maximian

  • Object:

    Manuscript cutting

  • Place of origin:

    Lombardy (illuminated)

  • Date:

    ca.1461 (illuminated)

  • Artist/Maker:

    da Cremona, Girolamo (illuminator)
    dai Libri, Girolamo, born 1474 (formerly attributed to)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Water-based pigments, gilding and ink on parchment

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

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

Towards the end of the Middle Ages miniature painting became a separate activity within the book trade. A number of the miniature painters who illuminated choirbooks and liturgical manuscripts in Italy can be identified by name. This miniature of St Giustina disputing with grammarians and rhetoricians before the Emperor Maximian was painted by the illuminator Girolamo da Cremona. He signed it 'Ieronimus f[ecit]' at the base of the fluted column. The carefully painted receding pillars, the coffered ceiling, the contrapposto pose of the green figure and the acanthus scrolls of the letter shape all show the artist's familiarity with the conventions of the best contemporary painting.

This beautiful initial was identified in the Burlington Fine Arts Club exhibition of 1908 and in the museum's catalogues (1908 and 1923) as 'St Catherine of Alexandria disputing with the grammarians and rhetoricians before the Emperor Maxentius', attributed to Girolamo dai Libri and dated ca.1500. Today, it is generally believed to represent St Giustina of Padua disputing with the Emperor Maximian, and to have been painted by Girolamo di Giovanni Corradi da Cremona (son of a miniaturist active in the Gonzaga court) around 1461 for the convent of Santa Giustina in Padua.

Physical description

Historiated initial with St Giustina of Padua disputing with the Emperor Maximian.
The scene is enclosed within a letter 'M,' of high quality ultramarine blue with brazen bands and bases, which delimits the pictorial space. The field outside the letter is covered in gold leaf. The central part of the letter takes the form of a fluted column with a composite capital. The artist's signature is inscribed on the base of the column: IERONIMUS F(ECIT) (meaning 'Jerome made [this]').
The scene is set in a portico with a coffered ceiling supported by two rows of five marble columns with brazen capitals. The young saint Giustina stands on the left, with her blonde hair worn braided round her head, dressed in a pleated crimson dress with green sleeves and holding a martyr's palm, accompanied by an older woman in a blue dress with green mantle, with her hands clasped in an attitude of prayer. Behind them is visible the tall blue soft hat of a figure otherwise obscured by the female figures, who are guarded by soldiers in plate armour. Emperor Maximian stands on the right, bearded and wearing a long blue pleated robe over green sleeves, and a tall peaked, fur-lined hat, covering his neck and with a turned-up brim at the front. surmounted by a triple tiara. He is accompanied by an older man with a long white beard, wearing a crimson pleated gown, fur-lined, and a blue cap. Behind them are visible the tall head-gear and the tops of the heads of three more court dignitaries. In the middle-distance, a group of younger male civilians witness the scene; they are dressed in contemporary Italian costume, and include a falconer wearing parti-coloured hose. In the distance is a gallery supported by columns, filled with female spectators, and on right and left are flanking buildings with prominent chimney stacks.
Other side not visible. Mounted onto card.

Place of Origin

Lombardy (illuminated)


ca.1461 (illuminated)


da Cremona, Girolamo (illuminator)
dai Libri, Girolamo, born 1474 (formerly attributed to)

Materials and Techniques

Water-based pigments, gilding and ink on parchment

Marks and inscriptions

Three red lines for music (each 16mm apart)
Visible at right edge; square notation

Inscribed on the base of the column


Height: 210 mm cutting, Width: 190 mm cutting, Height: 195 mm miniature, Width: 175 mm miniature

Object history note

Probably made for the convent of Santa Giustina in Padua.
J.T. Payne sale, Sotheby's London, 10 April 1878, lot 115; Quaritch catalogue 332, November 1880. Purchased from Charles Fairfax Murray in 1894 as part of a group of cuttings (now Museum nos 799-1894 to 817-1894) for the total sum of £190 10s 10d. This cutting was purchased for £100 (this price has recently been questioned and could have been meant to be 100 Italian lire, see Kidd 2020).
A duplicate number MS.1184 was assigned to this object in error and was subsequently cancelled.
Cuttings from the same manuscript in other collections: Paris, Musée Marmottan, Wildenstein 64; Chantilly, Musée Condé, Divers IV - 343.

Descriptive line

Historiated initial M, St Giustina disputing with Maximian, from a Choirbook, signed "Ieronimus.f" (Girolamo da Cremona), Italy (Lombardy), c.1461.

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

pp. 74-75.
Bradley, J.W., The life and works of Giorgio Giulio Clovio, miniaturist, 1495-1578. With notices of his contemporaries and the art of book decoration in the sixteenth century, London : B. Quaritch, 1891.
p. 54, no. 118, fig. 81.
Burlington Fine Arts Club: Exhibition of Illuminated Manuscripts, London: printed for the Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1908.
p. 94 (attributed to Girolamo dai Libri).
Catalogue of illuminated manuscripts : Part II, Miniatures, leaves, and cuttings, by S.C. Cockerell and E.F. Strange (London: HMSO, 1908, 1st edition).
pp. 87-88, pl. XXII (attributed to Girolamo dai Libri).
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).
Toesca P., 'Un dipinto di Gerolamo da Cremona', Rassegna d'arte antica e moderna, 5, 1918, pp. 141-3, at 142, note 1.
Salmi, M., 'Gerolamo da Cremona miniatore e pittore', Bollettino d'arte, 2, 1923, pp. 385-404 and 461-78, at 389 and 391, fig. 1
Levi D'Ancona, M., 'Postille a Girolamo da Cremona', in Studi di bibliografia e di storia in onore di Tammaro de Marinis, 3 vols, Verona, 1964, III, pp. 45-104, at 47-53, fig. 1
pp. 62, 70 and 137, fig. 10.
Levi d'Ancona, M.,The Wildenstein Collection of illuminations. The Lombard school, Florence: L.S. Olschki, 1970.
Mariani Canova, G., 'Di alcuni corali superstiti a S. Giustina in Padova. Cristoforo Cortese e altri miniatori del Quattrocento', Arte veneta, 24, 1970, pp. 35-46, at 43, fig. 60.
Mariani Canova, G., 'I manoscritti miniati dei monasteri benedettini padovani', in I Benedettini a Padova e nel territorio padovano attraverso i secoli, exhibition catalogue, Padua, Treviso, 1980, pp. 75-87 and 375-8, no. 301.
Mariani Canova, G., 'Girolamo da Cremona in Veneto: una nuova ipotesi per l'Antifonario dei Santi Cosma e Damiano', in Studi di storia dell'arte in memoria di Mario Rotili, 2 vols, Naples, 1984, I, pp. 331-46.
Mariani Canova, G., 'La miniatura dei manoscritti liturgici della Congregazione di S. Giustina in area padana: opere e contenuti devozionali', in Riforma della Chiesa, cultura e spiritualità nel Quattrocento (Atti del Convegno per il VI centenario della nascita di Ludovico Barbo, 1382-1443, Padua, Venice and Treviso, 19-24 September 1982), G.B.F. Trolese, ed., Cesena, 1984, pp. 475-502, at 479, fig. 25.
pp. 99-126 (119): J.J.G. Alexander, 'Italian Illuminated Manuscripts in British Collections'.
Sesti, E. (ed.), La miniatura italiana tra Gotico e Rinascimento (Atti del II Congresso di Storia della Miniatura italiana, Cortona, September 1982), 2 vols, Florence, 1985.
vol. I, pp. 87-117 (113): G. Mariani Canova, 'La committenza dei codici miniati alla corte estense al tempo di Leonello e di Borso'.
Le muse e il Principe. Arte di corte nel Rinascimento padano, exhibition catalogue, Milan, Museo Poldi Pezzoli 20 September - 1 December 1991, 2 vols, Modena, 1991.
pp. 228-37, at 228, fig. 2: A. De Marchi, 'I miniatori padani a Siena'.
Bellosi, Luciano, Francesco di Giorgio e il Rinascimento a Siena 1450-1500, Milan: Electa, 1993.
pp. 21-34 (G. Mariani Canova, 'The Italian Renaissance Miniature'), at 26-7, fig. 20, and p. 232, no. 123
Alexander, J.J.G. (ed.),The Painted Page. Italian Renaissance Book Illumination (1450-1550), exhibition catalogue, London, Royal Academy of Arts 27 October 1994 - 22 January 1995, Munich - New York, 1994.
pp. 241-7 (F. Toniolo, 'Girolamo da Cremona), at 241 and 244, fig. 153
Toniolo F. and Mariani Canova G. (eds) La miniatura estense, Modena 1994.
pp. 115-8 (A. De Marchi, 'Tra Ferrara e Mantova: il Messale di Barbara Gonzaga'), at 118.
Toniolo, F. (ed), La Miniatura a Ferrara dal tempo di Cosmè Tura all'eredità di Ercole de' Roberti, exhibition catalogue, Ferrara, Palazzo Schifanoia, 1 March - 31 May 1998., Modena, 1998.
pp. 32-5, no. 8 (G. Toscano).
Enluminures italiennes. Chefs-d'oeuvre du Musee Condé, exhibition catalogue, Chantilly, Musée Condé, 27 September 2000 - 1 January 2001, Paris, 2000.
vol. 56, p. 553: Toniolo, F., 'Girolamo da Cremona'.
Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Treccani, 2001.
Tucker, P., ‘Responsible Outsider – Charles Fairfax Murray and the South Kensington Museum’, in Journal of the History of Collections, vol. 14, 2002, pp. 115-137 (p. 128, fig. 7).
pp. 310-5 (F. Toniolo, 'Girolamo da Cremona'), at 311 and 313.
Bollati, M. (ed).Dizionario biografico dei miniatori italiani secoli IX-XVI. Preface by Miklós Boskovits. Milan, 2004.
pp. 95-101 (f. Toniolo, 'Girolamo da Cremona miniatore alla corte dei Gonzaga', at 97, fig. 2.
Trevisani, F., (ed.)Andrea Mantegna e i Gonzaga. Rinascimento nel Castello di San Giorgio, exhibition catalogue, Mantua, Castello di San Giorgio, 16 September 2006 - 14 January 2007, Milan, 2006.
Kidd, P., 'The Value of the V&A's Cutting of St Giustina disputing with Maximian', in Medieval Manuscripts Provenance blog, 1 November 2020 [last accessed 16/11/2020].


Parchment; Pigments; Gold



Subjects depicted

Capitals and columns


Christianity; Religion; Clothing; Architecture; Manuscripts; Manuscript cutting; Medieval and renaissance


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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