LORENZO Monaco
(b. ca. 1370, Siena (?), d. ca. 1425, Firenze)

Antiphonary (Cod. Cor. 8, folio 102)

1395-98
Tempera and gold on parchment, 215 x 163 mm (initial)
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

The choir books of Santa Maria degli Angeli are the crowning monuments of the art of illumination in early Renaissance Florence. They were highly praised by Vasari, who claims to have seen them many times. Twenty codices, most of them missing pages where illuminated initials were presumably cut out and sold to collectors, were transferred to the Biblioteca Laurenziana from Santa Maria degli Angeli upon the suppression of the monastery at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The earliest of the series of choir books (Cod. Cor. 2, dated February 1370, and illuminated by Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci) is the only volume written before the sacking and burning of Santa Maria degli Angeli in 1378. In 1382 the monastery received a large bequest, provided for the completion of a full set of choir books for both Santa Maria degli Angeli and its neighbour Santa Maria Nuova. A complete set of antiphonaries, in twelve volumes, was apparently finished (that is, written, but not necessarily illuminated) for Santa Maria degli Angeli by 1397. Eleven of the volumes of the antiphonary (Cod. Cor. 9, 16, 14, 17, 13, 12, 1, 8, 19, 5, 6) contain both movable and fixed feast for a portion of the liturgical year. Two volumes Cod. Cor. 11 and 7), containing commons of the saints, were added in the 1390s and in 1406. The series of graduals was completed in 1406 and 1410 with the addition of four further volumes (including Cod. Cor. 18, 3 and 4).

In studying the rich variety of illuminations present in these volumes, as well as those cuttings in collections around the world that can confidently be traced to these codices, it is apparent that they were not completed strictly in the order in which the books were written, and in some cases there was a considerable delay between writing and painting a given volume. It is probable that the first three volumes to be completed with illuminations were Cod. Cor. 9, 19 and 6, all painted by Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci. The illuminations from Cod. Cor. 16 and 11 were commissioned to artists outside the monastery, while the remaining volumes of the antiphonary, Cod. Cor. 1, 5, 7, 8 and 13, may all be associated with the art of Lorenzo Monaco.

Most scholars see Lorenzo Monaco as directly responsible for only a limited number of the initials in the books associated with Lorenzo Monaco, assigning the others to a variety of assistants and followers.

Only three of the six illuminated initials painted by Lorenzo Monaco for manuscript Cod. Cor. 8 remain in situ. This cutting contains one of the three missing initials, St John the Baptist in an initial F. It is a fragment of folio 102. The half-length figure of the Baptist is set against a gold ground and before the crossbar of the initial F, which is decorated with white filigree ornament and bordered at the right and left by a frieze of stylised pearls. He holds a staff topped with a cross in his left hand and points to the right with his other hand. The saint's halo and the margin of the gold ground are decorated with punch designs interrupted by the curling tendrils of the foliate extensions of the initial.