The Isabella Breviary is a beautiful Northern Renaissance manuscript from Belgium. The codex, also known as Breviario de Isabel la Catolica, was written and illuminated towards the end of the 15th century and features 1 beautifully illuminated full-page miniature, several exquisite two-column miniatures, countless one-column miniatures, and 6 exquisite historiated initials. With its neat and precise use of colors the manuscript is justly considered a Flemish masterpiece.
Isabella Breviary: Two Iconographic Campaigns
Written in Latin, the codex features an outstanding iconographic apparatus that was almost certainly produced in two different campaigns. The first one, dated around the mid 1480s, includes illuminations by artists such as the Master of the Dresden Prayerbook (to him can be attributed almost all miniatures from ff. 8v to 258r), Gerard David (ff. 29r, 41r, 297r), and another unknown artist.
Four of the miniatures are particularly significant given their quality and attribution: the Nativity Scene (f. 29r), the Adoration of the Magi (f. 41r), St. Barbara (f. 297r) and John on Patmos (f. 309r), all created by Gerard David. The abundant color palette and the glossy surface set these four miniatures apart from the rest and are an exquisite example of Flemish art.
The Second Campaign: The Master of James IV of Scotland
The second campaign, dated before the end of the 15th century (ca. 1497), includes the remainder of the miniatures, which were all created and illuminated by the Master of James IV of Scotland. About 15 miniatures were added in later centuries between Spain and England.
A Royal and Diplomatic Gift
The life of the manuscript is certainly an interesting one as it was commissioned as a gift from Francisco Rojas, ambassador of Maximilian I, to Isabella I of Castile and consort of Ferdinand, King of Aragon and Sicily in occasion of the negotiation of a double wedding between the offspring of Isabella and Ferdinand and that of Maximilian I.
In 1815, the manuscript ended up among the possessions of John Dent, a member of the parliament; after his death, the codex was passed from one owner to another until it was sold to the British Museum by William Boone together along with the Bedford Hours.
Gothica Textura Rotunda
The Isabella Breviary bear an exquisite example of Gothic script, namely Gothica Textura Rotunda characterized by the bottom of the minims being curved upwards in a cursive manner, however, it is to be noted that this example does not seem to be written in a fast pace like cursive.
Unfortunately, like many medieval manuscripts, the Isabella Breviary lost its original binding which was replaced in the 19th century with a blind-tooled dark brown leather binding by Charles Henrig.
- Images courtesy of the British Library