Manuscript Illumination with the Martyrdom of Saint Stephen in an Initial E, from a Gradual

Artist: Niccolò di Giacomo da Bologna (Italian, Bologna, active 1349–1403)

Date: ca. 1394–1402

Geography: Made in Bologna, Italy

Culture: Italian

Medium: Tempera, gold, and ink on parchment

Dimensions: Overall: 7 1/2 x 6 15/16 in. (19 x 17.6 cm)
Mat size: 19 1/4 x 14 1/4 in. (48.9 x 36.2 cm)

Classification: Manuscripts and Illuminations

Credit Line: Purchase, Gift of George Blumenthal, by exchange, Elaine Rosenberg and Austin B. Chinn Gifts, and Bequest of Fannie F. Einstein, in memory of Emanuel Einstein, by exchange, 2007

Accession Number: 2007.236


An archbishop of Lucca, whose family served as bankers to the pope, commissioned Niccolò da Bologna, a renowned illuminator, to create a set of choir books for the Carthusian monastery in nearby Farneta. In the nineteenth century, the monks had to sell the books, which eventually were cut up and divided among collectors. From this single initial, it is easy to understand Niccolò's fame. He infused the harrowing scene of the stoning of Stephen with elegance-in the lines of flowing drapery, touches of gold, and vibrant color. At the same time, he intensified the drama by compressing five figures and an outsized throne into the confines of the letter and then, after the scene was painted, emphatically separating the evil men from the saint with the finishing pink stroke of the crossbar of the E.