Maestro delle Iniziali di Bruxelles, f. XIV-XV
A leading exponent of the Bolognese late-Gothic figurative culture, the Maestro delle Iniziali di Bruxelles was active between the end of the 14th century and the beginning of the following century. Probably formed in the setting of the bottega of Nicolò di Giacomo, the artist begins an intense period of the activity during a sojourn in France at the service of the most important Parisian scriptoria of the time (Bollati, Il Mestro delle Iniziali, pp. 12-24; Medica, Maestro delle Iniziali, pp. 565-567). Otto Pächt’s research uncovered the figure of this anonymous miniaturist for the first time (Pächt, The Master of Mary, p. 52), in his work on the Book of Hours produced for the Duke of Berry (Bibliothèque Royale of Bruxelles mss. 11060-61), datable to approximately 1402, to which a large number of richly illuminated codices were added between France and northern Italy (Meiss, French painting, p. 229). The debut of the miniaturist was traced to the miniatures of the codex containing the Tragedies of Seneca (ms. Reg. lat. 1500) signed in 1389, at the same time as a Messale illuminated in the same span of years for Cosma Gentile de Migliorati, future Pope Innocenzo VII, and subsequently belonging to the antipope John XXIII (Los Angeles, JP Getty Museum, ms. 34-88 G.71). He also produced a Speculum Iudiciale di Durante at the beginning of the last decade of the fourteenth century (ms. Vat. lat. 2636)
He produces a sumptuous Book of Hours (Parma, Biblioteca Palatina, Ms. Pal 159) for the Raguier family in France, and for Carlo il Nobile di Navarra around the year 1404, he makes another Book of Hours, now in Cleveland (Museum of Art, ms. C. M. A. 6440), in which nuances of French motifs blend in with a distinctly Bolognese-Paduan artistic expression. In addition to being characterized by the typical style of the bottega of Niccolò di Giacomo, the style of the miniaturist conveys the style of Paduan wall paintings, such as the frescoes of Altichiero and Jacopo Avanzi (Mariani Canova, Nuovi contributi, pp. 81-110). Within the same librarian typology, the "Maestro delle Iniziali di Bruxelles" is recognizable in a precious Book of Hours (London, British Library, Add. 29433). It is a work simultaneously executed by several hands, both French and Bolognese.
The codex with the Epistles of Pliny (ms. Vat. lat. 1777) made between 1404/06 for Pope Benedict XIII can likely be attributed to the final Parisian period of the Maestro (Manfredi, Un codice di Plinio, pp. 27-37). We are certain that the miniaturist returns to Bologna shortly before 1408, as the Statutes of the Company of Santa Maria della Vita testifies (Bologna, Biblioteca dell'Archiginnasio, fondo Ospedali 6). He remains in the city at least until the late twenties, as shown by the miniatures of the magnificent copy of Factorum et dictorum memorabilium of Valerius Maximus (ms. Vat. lat. 7320) dating from nearly the same time as the last known manuscript assigned to the Maestro, which contains the I fioretti di San Francesco e la Regola, dated 1416 (collection of Giustiniani Recanati).
BOLLATI, Il Mestro delle Iniziali, pp. 12-24; MANFREDI, Un codice di Plinio, pp. 27-37; MARIANI CANOVA, Nuovi contributi, pp. 81-110; MEDICA, Maestro delle Iniziali, pp. 565-567; MEISS, French painting, p. 229; PäCHT, The Master of Mary, p. 52.
Vat. lat. 7320, f. 21r - Vat. lat. 1777, f. 1r