Close XYL-35 The Trinity (‘Mercy Seat’)

 [Southern Germany (Franconia?), c.1440–50]. Woodcut.

 Schr. 741e. Mercy Seat (or ‘Gnadenstuhl’). God the Father, with halo, seated on a bench in the centre of the image and supporting with his outstretched arms the body of the Son (only part of the right-hand sleeve of the Father and the right arm of the Son preserved), who is affixed by three nails to the cross: its stem extends to the centre of the lower margin. Above the head of God the Son hovers the dove representing the Holy Spirit (only one wing preserved). The figures are positioned under a decorative trefoil arch, through which can be seen, forming the background, a vaulted ceiling with windows on either side. Double-lined frame. Unique copy. Incorrectly described in SC as an image of the Annunciation; unaccountably described in Index of Images as a ‘watercolour drawing or print’ depicting ‘the Virgin and Child or a Christ in Majesty’. This woodcut is in virtually every detail identical, except for the lack of a decorative border (which seems likely to have been cut away in the Bodleian copy), to Schr. 741d, the unique impression of which is preserved as an integral part of a manuscript from the Katharinenkloster in Nuremberg, Nuremberg StB, Cent. VI,56, dated 1446–7; see the illustrations in M. Weinberger, Die Formschnitte des Katharinenklosters zu Nürnberg. Ein Versuch über die Geschichte des frühesten Nürnberger Holzschnittes (Munich, 1925), colour pl. 5 (and discussion pp. 39–40); Illustrated Bartsch (Supplement), 163.741–4; Schmidt, Gedruckte Bilder, ill. 46. The Gulden puchlein of c.1450, now kept in Munich BSB, in which the woodcut border of Schr. 741d is used for three different images (Schmidt, Gedruckte Bilder, 32), and Nuremberg StB, Cent. VI,56 provide the points of reference that allow a dating of this item to the mid-century. Nuremberg is a possible place of origin, but the state of preservation of this unique copy is too poor to allow any such hypothesis to be tested. For another woodcut from this group, preserving a decorative border in the manner of the Gulden puchlein woodcuts intact, see XYL-18.

ills. Illustrated Bartsch (Supplement), 163.741–5.

refs. Dodgson, Ashmolean, 31 (Bodl.4); Schreiber, Handbuch, VIII 41; Nicholson no. 1.

copy Chancery quarter-sheet (trimmed). 139 × 86 mm (woodcut 131 × c.84 mm). Chain-lines horizontal. Printed in grey ink on one side of the paper by rubbing. Coloured in dull purple, pale green, red, pale yellow, and flesh-colour. The whole of the central portion of the woodcut has been torn away, evidently in a deliberate act of iconoclasm. In view of the unusual format (too small to be a full quarter-sheet, but horizontal chain-lines), and in view of the extremely close relationship to Schr. 741d, which Weinberger shows to be associated with a set of woodcuts with distinctive decorative borders, it seems likely that the Bodleian impression originally had a similar border, now trimmed away, and was printed on a chancery quarter-sheet of similar dimensions to those of the Nuremberg copy of Schr. 741d (183 × 120 mm). The woodcut is affixed to the blank verso of the upper pastedown (fol. iiv), now lifted, of MS. Bodl. 608, a small-format utilitarian paper manuscript in 8o (147 × 114 mm) of John of Gaddesden, Rosa medicinae siue Rosa Anglica, copied in an English cursive hand and datable on palaeographical grounds to the second quarter of the fifteenth century; followed by a few short medical texts in Latin and English at the end of the volume. Fols iiir–ivv, which follow on immediately after the woodcut and precede the main text, contain a set of medical notes dealing with diagnostic signs (incipit: ‘<D>e fforma decubitus. Si patiens non sentit nocumentum de suo dolore . . .’), unrelated to the subject matter of the image. The upper pastedown is a cutting from a Latin charter relating to an ecclesiastical court at York, with the date 1437; the blank verso, to which the woodcut is pasted, is completely unmarked, suggesting that the leaf was positioned here when the manuscript was first made.

refs. SC 2059; Index of Images, I 68 no. 259.

Binding: Inboard binding, later rebacked. 146 × 115 × 90 mm. Red, surface-stained, reversed tawed leather over oak boards. The tawed leather is now entirely faded to pale brown except at the turn-ins, which retain a muted red colour. The original pastedowns are now lifted and a later paper upper flyleaf has been added. A brown tanned-leather strap, with a copper-alloy clasp, is anchored by brass pins to the upper board and closes on a copper-alloy catch plate on the lower board. The clasp has an eye for a now missing pull. Manuscript title ‘Rosa medicine’ to fore-edge, reading from tail to head. Rebacked with light brown reversed tanned calf.

Provenance: Christophor Materas (fl. early sixteenth century); inscription fol. 420v. Sir Henry Savile (1549–1622). Presented to the Bodleian in 1620; see SC I 104. Former Bodleian shelfmark: NE.C.1.3.

shelfmark: MS. Bodl. 608, fol. iiv.