Ordine da osservarsi nell'oratorio di Santa Maria di Passione, circa gli Essercicii Spirituali delle feste cavato dalla Regola maggiore.

DIVINE OFFICE  ([late C18th])



Seven striking devotional, hand-painted illustrations in gouache, of which five full page, 9 hand-painted initials in liquid gold on blue ground with silver foliage. 

Manuscript and gouache on vellum. Folio (273 x 185mm). [2], 66pp. Eighteenth-century vellum over pasteboard, upper and lower covers with single gilt fillet, panelled in blind with central blind stamped ornament, spine gilt, five raised bands.

N.p., n.d. [but Compagnia di Santa Maria della Passione, Milan,

Strikingly illustrated manuscript rules for the Divine Office and specific feast days in the liturgical calendar, for the Confraternity of the Passion at the Oratorio di Santa Maria di Passione, which stands next to the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio in Milan. This manuscript is a unique reminder of the religious life of the oratory, created in the very final years before its closure.

Written out in a scrupulously neat hand, these ordine provide a detailed timetable of the community’s daily prayer and spiritual exercises. For each of the standard canonical hours, the order of prayers, psalms and chants is described, along with their variations for particular feast days or times of the year. The rules offer precise instruction for style and manner of delivery. Matins, for instance, should be said at a steady pace, and any amendments or corrections while the office is being sung should occur as subtly and unobtrusively as possible (5). Also described here are instructions for receiving pilgrims and novices.

Little is known of this confraternity, although a surviving set of rules for the order from 1565 gives some idea of its character (Ordini Riformati della Compagnia di Santa Maria della Passione al campanile dei reverendi canonici’, Archivio Storico Diocesiano, Milano, V.P., S. Ambrogio, XLIX, 71, in Rovetta, p.16). The oratory itself is described as a place of silence, meditation and prayer; members of the order should possess ’humility and simplicity of heart, cheerfulness of mind, readiness of soul, devotion of spirit, and sincerity of intention’ [our translation]. Rules for entry were strict; novices had to be at least 22 years old, have lived in Milan for at least two years, be literate, and not have been employed as a servant, soldier or merchant (with an exception made for those in the wool and fustian trade).

Built by the Compagnia in the second half of the fifteenth century, the oratory itself was ceded to the basilica in 1812 after the disbanding of the confraternity, and subsequently sold. On its walls were frescos depicting scenes from the life of Christ by Bernardino Luini (c.1480-1532) and his school, which were detached in 1869, and sold at Fosters, Pall Mall, in 1898 (see Williamson,p.101). Three are now at the V&A - depicting elements of the Ascension - and the remainder entered private collections. It is tempting to find in the vibrantly coloured illustrations here a record of, or at least a nod to, Luini’s frescos, but the cycle of watercolours here focuses on stages in the life of the Virgin Mary, rather than the Passion. They begin with a striking depiction of the Pietà,before moving on to depict the Annunciation, the Assumption, the Virgin and Child, and the Virgin as the Woman of the Apocalypse, with the traditional iconography of the crescent moon and serpent beneath her feet. There are two further, half-page vignettes of a vase of elaborate foliage, and putti.

Provenance: Descriptive note at head of front pastedown in nineteenth/early twentieth century German hand. Nineteenth-century exlibris, ‘sub tutela matris’ on front pastedown.

Closed tear at foot of f.6, crudely taped on recto, touching text but not affecting legibility, lower fore-edge well-thumbed throughout, some offsetting of illustrations on opposing leaves.

A. Rovetta, ‘Oratorio di Santa Maria della Passione - Cenni storici’, in Oratorio della Passione in Sant’Ambrogio a Milano: Risanamento degli intonaci e restauro degli affreschi (Milan: Mapei/Zambon Group, 2004), pp.10-17 [accessed online February, 2021]. G. C. Williamson, Bernardino Luini (London: George Bell & Sons, 1899).

Stock Code: 242112

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