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Collections | Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts

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Nativity in initial P

Nativity, in an initial P
Leaf from a Gradual (I), in Latin
Illuminated by Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci for Paolo Venier,
abbot of San Michele à Murano
Italy, Florence, ca. 1392–1399
590 x 400 mm
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1909; MS M.653.1
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The Roman numeral XXXVIII on the recto of the leaf indicates it was originally folio 38 in the Gradual. Here the initial P begins the Introit for the Christmas Mass, which is taken from the Book of Isaiah (9:6): Puer natus est nobis (A child is born to us). The prophet Isaiah may be represented as the upper of two heads on the shaft of the P. The lower head is that of a shepherd. The oval encloses the Nativity, which is staged before a cave with the ox and ass. The Virgin nurses her child, while the prostrate Joseph kisses his foot. The kissing of Christ's foot has its textual counterpart, and perhaps its origin, in such mystical writings as the thirteenth-century Meditations on the Life of Christ, in which the Magi and others are described as kissing his feet and playing with him. At the bottom of the leaf is the Annunciation to the Shepherds with an angel bearing an olive branch (peace to men of good will) and a shepherd playing his bagpipe. Even the sheep are animated.

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Background images: Photography by Todd Eberle unless otherwise noted. © 2006 Todd Eberle.