Thirteen detached leaves comprise this spectacular genealogy of the royal houses of Spain and Portugal. Created for the Infante Ferdinando of Portugal, son of King Manuel I of Portugal and his consort Maria of Aragon, it was the product of the cooperation between two renowned artists, Simon Bening of Bruges and the Portuguese court illuminator António de Holanda. The work began in 1530, the year of the young prince's marriage, and ended in 1534, probably due to his untimely death. With the death of its patron, the genealogy was left unfinished.
Each large parchment sheet is painted only on one side, and the leaves are currently matted and unbound. The pieces may never have been envisioned as a bound book but rather as sequential pages in a portfolio. There is no textual content except the names of the depicted ancestors and a title for each painting. The majority of the writing is in display scripts employing Square Capital letterforms.
A Pictorial Genealogy of Portugal and Spain
In the fashion of the medieval Christian Tree of Jesse image, in which the genealogy of Christ is pictured as a tree with ancestors depicted among its branches, the lineage of the royal houses is displayed as various types of trees inhabited with portraits of family members. The identity of each person is indicated with a flowing banderole emblazoned in display script as well as an unfinished coat of arms. Each image has a painted border and is titled in a cartouche above. Crowns, lettering, and other details are picked out in gold.
An Exquisite yet Unfinished Work
Its large format makes this collection of miniatures more akin to panel painting than typical manuscript painting. Indeed, the size is necessary to incorporate the splendid details that abound in each image, from the architectural frames to the multitude of creatures mingling in the swirling tree branches alongside the depicted ancestors of the Infante Fernando. The framed blank fields on the first two folios, the incomplete coats of arms, and the final unpainted leaf indicate that this monumental work was left unfinished.
An International Effort
The genealogy was a project shared between Simon Bening, working in Bruges, and António de Holanda in Lisbon. Bening was responsible for five miniatures (fols. 2, 4, 5, 5* and 10), while Hollanda painted the remainder, as well as drawing the unfinished genealogy (fol. 11), a demonstration of his excellent drafting skills. The whereabouts of the leaves is unknown until 1842 when Newton Scott acquired all but two folios in Portugal and sold them to the British Museum that same year. Fols. 5* and 9* were purchased by the museum from Baron Juan de Hortega in 1868.