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

Antiphonary (Cod. Cor. 7, folio 124v)

1406
Tempera and gold on parchment, 315 x 265 mm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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.

The antiphonary Cod. Cor. 7 at the Biblioteca Laurenziana retains three illuminated initials, while three others are missing. The cutting in the Metropolitan Museum contains one of the three missing initials, it is a fragment of the missing folio 124. This cutting shows a depiction of the Last Judgment in an initial C.

In the blue initial lined with bands of yellow and red and decorated with yellow, orange, and green foliation, the half-length figure of Christ, loosely wrapped in a blue cloak, floats on a bank of clouds above a desolate rocky landscape. He raises his right hand in judgment, points downward with his left, and looks across to the right toward the now missing text that would have followed the initial. At the left, cropped by the red band lining the initial, is an angel in a blue tunic sounding a long golden trumpet. Below, the bodies of four of the resurrected dead emerge from holes in the cracked and barren ground.