Leaves from Choir Books

Pellegrino di Mariano Rossini


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Detail of the cherub’s face under magnification (16x).
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Detail of the orange cherub under magnification (16x). His facial features, including the eyes and hair, are outlined in organic red and lead-tin yellow over the red lead base layer.
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Detail of the bronze-coloured head under magnification (16x). The expressive face is rendered with strokes of organic red and bright lead-tin yellow over the shiny mosaic gold base layer.
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Detail of God’s purple sleeve under magnification (50x), showing blue as well as translucent red particles. These were identified by FORS analysis (below) as azurite and an insect-based dye, respectively.

This leaf came from an Antiphoner made for the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala in Siena c. 1460-1477. The lower border preserves the overpainted arms which combine Santa Maria della Scala’s emblematic ladder with the rampant griffin (still discernable) of Niccolò Ricoveri, the hospital’s rector who commissioned the new set of Choir Books. The miniature and the initial I introduce the opening words of the Book of Genesis, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’, with which the original volume began; they were recited at the midnight service of Matins for Septuagesima Sunday. The image of the Creation is among the finest surviving works of Pellegrino di Mariano Rossini, a pupil of Giovanni di Paolo. It is based on a panel from the altarpiece Giovanni di Paolo painted c.1445-1450 for the chapel of the Guelfi family in San Domenico, Siena (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975.1.31). The depiction of the eight celestial spheres and the four elements emerging simultaneously draws on the Apostles’ Creed and on Dante’s Paradise (29:22-30) rather than on the Genesis story of sequential creation recounted beside the image. The red circle represents fire, the light blue air, and the green the waters that surround the earth in the centre – colour associations of the elements that endured from Antiquity until the Renaissance.