This spectacular manuscript was created in Rome during the papacy of Boniface IX, the second Roman pope during the Western Schism, a period during which two rival popes, one in Rome and one in Avignon, vied for power. Although this book is called a pontifical, it is actually the oldest known copy of a new type of text, a Praeparatio ad missam, a book specifically for the use of the pope. The large size of the Italian Gothic lettering suggests it was meant for practical use in the celebration of the Mass.
The book contains five major sections of rites and readings in Latin abundantly decorated with elaborately colored and gilded initials. The largest initials introducing major sections are historiated with scenes of the rites of the papal vestments while the one full-page illumination shows Pope Boniface IX standing on a balcony surrounded by bishops, clergy, pilgrims, and other laypeople.
It was made specifically for Pope Boniface IX as indicated by the coat of arms for Pietro Tomacelli throughout. Its magnificent initials and marginal decoration are an impressive example of Late Gothic Italian illumination executed by an atelier of innovative artists.
Spectacular Illuminations of Papal Rites
As a book with readings for the preparation of the papal mass, the manuscript's illuminations, one full-page, and several historiated initials illustrate these preparatory rites.The two most spectacular illuminations are the incredible Q initial at the beginning of the book, its interlaced form inhabited with a scene of a red slipper being placed on the pope's foot with the gold-draped cathedra in the background, and the other the full-page illustration of the pope on a balcony surrounded by clergy with the laity and pilgrims below in the courtyard. The entire program of images in this manuscript provides a tantalizing glimpse into the pageantry and rituals of the medieval papacy in Rome.
A Manuscript of Vivid Colors and Glimmering Gold
The most abundant artworks in the Pontifical of Boniface IX are the brightly colored and gilded initials, some that fill entire pages. The letters demarcate individual texts within the book with personalization for Boniface IX. His coat of arms appears throughout the pages as well as various notable political and religious figures.
Several pages are decorated with spirited Italianate marginalia that frame the precise littura sine pedibus Gothic textura lettering. Faces and figures share the colorful unfurling acanthus leaves with birds and dragons with abundant gilding throughout.
A Disputed Papacy and the Western Schism
Pietro Tomacelli became Pope Boniface IX during an unhappy time. His predecessor, Urban VI, initiated the Schism when he was installed as the Roman pope in opposition to the antipopes in Avignon. Political, economic, and social issues were abundant in Europe after the Black Death and the Church often found itself pulled in multiple directions. This manuscript, along with two others produced by the same workshop at this time, offers a window into a time of dramatic changes within the liturgy and papacy itself.