A Fool. North-Eastern Italy, Padua,




initial 'D', from an illuminated choirbook. Size of initial:  92 x 92mm. The initial opening Psalm 52, Dixit insipiens, likely in a Breviary or a Ferial Psalter, laid down but with a round pink label ‘Ball Collection’ with the written number 5 on the reverse.

Padua, 1500.

This is an excellent example of the work of Antonio Maria da Villafora (documented in Padua 1469-1511), showing his detailed technique and strong characterisation. 

Although originating in Villafora in Polesina, Antonio Maria’s documented career was entirely in Padua. He was active over a long period and illuminated manuscripts and incunables for individual patrons and monasteries in and around the city. Some of his most significant works were commissions for Pietro Barozzi, Bishop of Padua for whom he worked from 1487 to 1506. He has been described as ‘the most important personality of the Paduan Renaissance in the field of illumination for the output, continuity and quality of his contributions’: L.P. Gnaccolini, Dizionario biografico dei miniatori italiani, 2004, pp.36-9. The present initial, with the pronounced features, attentive modelling and careful and complex build-up of brushstrokes, shows affinities with his work in the last decades of the 15th century including incunables for Barozzi (items 155-8 in La Miniatura a Padova dal medioevo al settecento, eds G.B. Baldisssin, G. Mariani Canova, F. Toniolo, exh. cat. 1999 pp.382-6) and, for example, the initial with Christ Blessing St Peter in the British Library (Add. 71119E). 

A figure of a fool was the traditional introductory illustration for Psalm 52, which opens Dixit insipiens in corde suo ('The fool said in his heart'). Here he is shown with a cap of feathers and a stick, the attributes of Giotto’s personification of the Vice of Foolishness in the Scrovegni chapel in Padua; these are also the attributes carried by the ragged Fool in northern Italian sets of Tarot cards. 

Provenance:  Capt. John Henry Ball (d.1938): his circular red stamp on reverse. Acquired probably in the 1920s and placed on deposit with his substantial collection of antiquities, arms and armour, and medieval items, at the Hertfordshire Museum, St Albans  Bequeathed to his son, John Brayfield Ball (d.1940); bought by Capt. Ball's executor, Sydney Edward Lucas (d.1970), by whom withdrawn from the Museum and sold at:  Christie's, London, May 16, 1961, probably part of lot 146 (the figure identified as Lazarus) bought by Rogers. 

For the Ball Collection see the forthcoming article P. Kidd, ‘Medieval Manuscripts from the collection of Captain Jack Ball’, Beyond Words: Proceedings of a Conference on Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections.

Stock Code: 228184

close zoom-in zoom-out close zoom