MINIATURIST, Bohemian
(active in the 1410s)

Olomouc Missal

1413
Manuscript, 415 x 295 mm
Town Archive, Brno

The folio is from the Missal of St Vitus Cathedral in Prague, otherwise known as the Olomouc Missal.

The picture shows Christ on the Cross between the Virgin and St John the Evangelist. In a frame of a standing oblong shape, which gives a three-dimensional effect, the crucified Christ is represented between the figures of the Virgin and of St John the Evangelist. The marginal decoration of scrolls of acanthus leaves springs from the corners of the frame, and encircles a small, round field at the bottom, where the Vir Dolorum is depicted.

The acanthus decoration which had been made some 10-20 years earlier in the workshop which executed commissions for the Emperor Wenceslas, is here arranged in a more regular and decorative manner, the scrolls and leaves being even more stylized. They have virtually assumed a metallic hardness. In the picture itself the features which formerly characterized the International Gothic style have been further modified to the point of being exaggerated. All elements in the picture have been made secondary to a desire for decorativeness: Christ's ribs form a regular pattern of parallel lines, as do the veins of the wood of the cross. The crown of thorns looks like an ornamental head-dress rather than an instrument of torture; and the drops of blood falling from the wound of Christ on the kerchief of the Virgin harmonize beautifully with her cherry-red lips. Though the figures beside the cross are slender, in accordance with the taste of the period, they are wrapped in enormously ample draperies. But to show the Virgin so full of joie de vivre that she almost seems to be dancing does not suit the mood of this picture. Furthermore, St John is so enveloped in a mass of draperies disproportionate to his small head that he appears to be hiding someone under his garments. His right arm extended to touch the cross looks rather distorted; it is too long and is twisted at the wrist in a strange, unnatural manner. These extremely stylized idioms of form fit the abstract and symbolic figure of the Vir Dolorum better; even so, the way that the end of His loincloth is placed in front of the sarcophagus and arranged in a decorative manner, seems to indicate certain playfulness whose purpose is not fully clarified.

International Gothic art, no doubt, had always been in danger of becoming exaggeratedly stylized, and by the time the style was coming to an end this contrived and purposeless formalism had begun to dominate it, particularly in the work of minor artists.

In the miniature in Brno a feature appears which is in sharp contrast to the accepted qualities of the International Gothic style, a feature which is more characteristic of the art of subsequent decades: instead of soft, wavy lines the folds show harder lines and sharper angles (particularly in the mantle of St John.




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