An overlooked book : a first examination of the New York Public Library's MA 104

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2016-05

Authors

Martin, Kimberlynn J.

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Abstract

The New York Public Library’s MA 104 is a curious fifteenth-century manuscript, comprising of 468 folios with over 180 large drawings of Old Testament stories. Despite the book’s rich illustrated program it has yet to be considered by art historians. Likely, it has been overlooked because of the inexpert quality of its miniatures. Although the artists of MA 104 were seemingly untrained, they were clearly interested in the popular artistic traditions of the time. In fact, many of their compositions come from the typological tradition of manuscript types such as the Speculum Humanae Salvationis. The similarities in compositions even led famous bookseller Bernard Quaritch to list the book as a Speculum in the late-nineteenth century. The artists of MA 104 were not interested in creating a typological book, however, instead borrowing these well-known compositions for their own purposes. From their unique implementation of these distinguished compositions emerge clear themes of masculinity, and what they chose to include in the manuscript, whether copied or original, will be considered at length in this study. MA 104 is a valuable example of how established compositions and manuscript types were accepted and interpreted by untrained artists, providing a glimpse into the culture of amateur art from the fifteenth century. For the first time in art historical scholarship, this thesis examines the illustrations and decorations of MA 104, considering its creators and their influences.

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