Reassembling the Sacred: The Murano Master and the Illuminated Choir Books of Camaldolese House of San Mattia di Murano
This dissertation presents a partial reconstruction of a now-dismembered series of lavishly illuminated and large-scale choir books made for the Camaldolese monastery of San Mattia di Murano ca. 1400–ca. 1445. These manuscripts are attributed to Cristoforo Cortese and the so-called ‘Master of the Murano Gradual,’ and now exist as two intact volumes and thirty-eight excised historiated initials found in public and private collections all over the globe. This thesis mines the dense, visual religious elements of these understudied images in order to investigate the use of monastic corporate iconography by the monks at San Mattia. In this thesis, I argue that the brothers at San Mattia commissioned these manuscripts, not only as necessary liturgical tools, but also as a means of expressing complex ideas about self-identity within both Benedictine monasticism and Christianity, more broadly. This thesis also examines and compares the iconographic programme and stylistic features of the San Mattia volumes with choir books belonging to its nearby sister house San Michele in Isola, and with the lavish series owned by a third Camaldolese monastery: Santa Maria degli Angeli in Florence, whose manuscripts were a model for both the sets commissioned for the houses in the Venetian lagoon. The results of this analysis show that the monks at San Mattia appear to have wanted their choir books’ visual scheme to reflect spiritual values and ideas with specific significance for their own house and which deviate from the iconographic model of the Florentine series. This study also investigates the San Mattia visual corpus within the framework of select examples of monumental painting, particularly frescos and altarpieces, as a means of probing the influences of other media on the work of the Murano Master. Ultimately, this study not only offers the first-ever reconstruction of the San Mattia choir books, but it also provides new insights into their significance in terms of the Camaldolese use of monastic corporate iconography within the context of early Quattrocento Venice.