[SPREGA, Ernesto, or circle of]. ~ Ten illuminated miniatures. [Italy, end of the nineteenth century].
10 illuminated miniatures on 5 vellum leaves (each leaf c. 145 × 108 mm), illuminated recto and verso in penwork, colours and liquid gold. In contemporary double-sided blue and gilt glazed frames (mounts renewed).
Superb examples of the late-nineteenth-century medieval revival and specimens of the trade in painted miniatures imitating (innocently or not) the manuscript painting of the Middle Ages. These miniatures can been attributed to Ernesto Sprega, restorer of the Raphael frescoes in the Vatican, or another facsimilist in his circle (cf. Manuscript Illumination in the Modern Age, ed. S. Hindman et al., 2001, pp. 120-22). The borders and the frames of the miniatures are bravura imitations of ornate Italian models of the late fifteenth- or early sixteenth-century, perhaps even recalling the lavish and gaudy borders strewn with gold and brightly-coloured, fleshy foliage produced by Liberale da Verona (c. 1445-1530).
Whether these are pastiches or forgeries intended to deceive unwary buyers is a question for discussion. Certainly there are numerous examples of similar creations (notably by the Spanish Forger) sold in Europe to foreign (usually American) buyers in search of authentic medieval manuscript cuttings, and it is interesting that the artist here has offset the miniatures to one side of the leaf, leaving a blank space (approximately 10mm. wide) on one vertical edge, giving the impression to the casual observer that these are singletons, taken from a book, while in fact the vellum shows no signs of having ever been bound into a volume.
The subjects of the miniatures:
Leaf 1: recto, Christ entering Jerusalem on a donkey; verso, Christ seated in a hilly landscape surrounded by children, one of whom sits on his lap, and another holds a lamb.
Leaf 2: recto, Christ surrounded by the Apostles in a wooded landscape; verso, Christ before his followers accepting a golden ring from a richly dressed Jew and a young man (some rubbing to young man's face on verso and scratch through corner of miniature).
Leaf 3: recto, The Scourging of Christ (some minor paint flaking to base of miniature); verso, St. Paul cutting off Malchus' ear in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Leaf 4: recto, Christ before followers exposing his wound to Thomas; verso, the Descent from the Cross (small scratch to latter).
Leaf 5: recto, bearded man with followers kneels as God appears as a bearded face in upper left-hand corner of miniature; verso, the same man standing before a medieval town gate surrounded by townspeople.