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Una pinacoteca in miniatura

OVERVIEW

The Book of Hours of Perugino



Londra, British Library, Ms. Yates Thompson 29



This extremely refined masterwork of the Italian Renaissance (1503) was commissioned by Perugino, who belonged to a leading family of Bologna. Also Bolognese was the calligrapher, Pietro Antonio Sallando (a grammarian at the city’s university and a renowned calligraphy master).



A treasury of masterpieces



Perugino’s intention was to produce a small anthology of the finest illuminations in central and northern Italy. To this end he called upon a number of the leading artists of this period, each of whom was to produce a full-page illumination. Thus, we find works by Amico Aspertini (Adoration of the Shepherds), Perugino (San Sebastiano), Lorenzo Costa (David with lyre), Francesco Francia (San Gerolamo), and, in all likelihood, Matteo da Milano (Annunciation).



Marvellous embellishments



Notable, too, are the embellishments framing the illustrations, produced with an abundance of floral motifs and references to the classic tradition. Indeed, a number of pages include fragile, fantastic, grotesque figures inspired by the decor of the ‘Grotte’ (caves) of the Esquiline Hill in Rome (the site of the buried remains of Nero’s Domus Aurea, or Golden House, which, when uncovered in 1480, immediately attracted the attention of the artists of that period).



The elaborate binding



The morocco binding, with its finely executed floral motifs on polychrome silk satin, is quite remarkable. The covers are adorned with two bezels or settings for semi-precious stones and two centrally positioned roundels for the figures of the Annunciation.



Patronage



The work’s original owner (as indicated by the coat of arms) was Perugino, who was elected a senator in Bologna following the assassination of his father, Virgilio, in 1523. When the codex was produced, Perugino was still rather young and it may be that this Libro d’Ore had been commissioned by Peruginos’s father for his son’s use. The codex passed from the house of Perugino into the hands of the Albani family of Urbino, where, according to record, it was to be found in the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century, the work reached Britain, where it was purchased by Henry Yates Thompson in 1897. It has been at the British Library since 1941.

Photographic atlas









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