The initial originally decorated a manuscript for the Catholic liturgy. The term ‘gradual’ for this type of book derives from the Latin ‘gradus’ (steps), as the cantor performed the melodies on the steps leading up to the altar. While the manuscripts were replaced with printed books as a results of liturgical reforms and thus have not survived, collectors preserved the painted initials as small works of art in their own right.

The initial depicting the birth of Christ resembles those in a manuscript from Prague. It probably originated in a region of Bohemia, bordering either on Silesia or Franconia.


  • Title: Fragment from a Gradual
  • Date Created: ca. 1420/21
  • Physical Location: Bohemian border region
  • Physical Dimensions: 7,8 x 7,2 cm
  • Provenance: probably Nuremberg, parish church of St Laurence
  • Medium: parchment
  • Shelf mark: I Qa 28
  • Photographer: Gerald Raab

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