Michelangelo in Miniature: The Towneley Lectionary

In the 19th century, Giulio Clovio's reputation was such that it was the highest ambition of collectors of illuminated manuscripts to possess a work by him. As it happens, the two most famous works of Clovio (ca. 1498-1578) are both in New York: the Farnese Hours, now at The Morgan Library & Museum, and this magnificent lectionary held by The New York Public Library's Manuscripts and Archives Division. (A lectionary contains "lections" "” portions of Scripture "” to be read during church services.) Both were created for Alessandro Cardinal Farnese, who has been described as "the most important patron of the visual arts in mid-16th-century Rome." Upon his death in 1589 Farnese left this lectionary to the College of Cardinals for use in the Sistine Chapel; it is presumed that the lectionary was looted during Napoleon's occupation of Rome in 1798. It subsequently came into the possession of the noted English collector John Towneley (1731-1814), by whose name it is now generally known. Clovio is responsible for three of the text pages and four of the six full-page miniatures, including The Last Judgment. These miniatures were characterized by Giorgio Vasari, in his Lives of the Artists, as stupefying in their brilliant detail, emulating Michelangelo and conveying a sense of monumentality even in works that are physically small. In the Lives Vasari calls Clovio "Michelangelo in little," and another contemporary source makes it clear that Clovio knew Michelangelo personally. Clovio was also a great colorist; his use of "œcangiante" color, where, for example, yellow emerges from purple in the draperies, recalls Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling. Clovio's student and legatee Claudio Mazzarelli may be one of the three unidentified artists responsible for some of the additional miniatures.


Gospel Lectionary (Towneley Lectionary). Illuminated manuscript on vellum; in Latin. Illuminated by Giulio Clovio and three unidentified artists. Rome, ca. 1550-60 (and possibly later).
The New York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division.


More Images from the Towneley Lectionary

Related Publication: The Towneley Lectionary Illuminated for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese by Giulio Clovio: The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations Manuscript 91

Collection Guide: Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts from Western Europe

Exhibition Brochure: The Splendor of the Word: Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts at The New York Public Library

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