Inhabited Initial Q
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Italian, Montecassino, 1153
Tempera colors and gold leaf on parchment

7 9/16 x 5 3/16 in.

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A large ornamental Q opens the hymn for the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin, Quis possit amplio famine p[rae]potens [Who can be powerful by great poverty?] in this breviary from Montecassino. The illuminator chose to render this letter in a blue and gold design similar to that of contemporary textiles. This rich yet sober handling contrasts with the multiple vivid colors and the more tangled, frenzied, three-dimensional interlaces and biting dogs in the manuscript's other initials.

The artist gives life to the letter Q by rendering it as a vine scroll with winding tendrils and lots of leaves. Animals, birds, and two men cavort among the branches. The Q 's delicate feathery tail, formed by a peacock whose head is caught by the vines, counters the design's symmetry.