An early 15th-century manuscript of one of the most widely copied works of secular literature in the Middle Ages
11 Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae and Jean de Meun, TestamentIlluminated manuscript on vellum, in French and Latin, written by the scribe Reynaldus.
France, Paris, c. 1400.
304 x 225 mm. 155 leaves, (the first quire with the prologue of the translator possibly missing): I10, II-XV8, XVI2, XVII-XIX8, XX8-1 (last missing leaf blank). Catchwords in the same script as the text. Remnants of old quire foliation in the lower right, sporadically foliated in pencil (modern, partly incorrect). – Written space: 206 x 163 mm, 32-38 lines, double columns, ruled in brown ink with an additional column for the beginning of verses, vertical lines drawn through up to the margins.Text in French and Latin, written in Cursiva Libraria in light brown ink, descenders of letters occasionally calligraphically decorated. Rubrics in red, also the grammalogues b(oethius) and p(hilosophia), beginnings of chapters alternately with red and blue chapter signs, beginnings of verses and verse initials touched in yellow. – Numerous three-line initials in gold with alternately red and blue infills and white penwork, 9 three- to six-line ivyleaf initials with extensions. – One five-line historiated initial with ivyleaf border extensions. 6 column-wide miniatures accompanied by gold bar borders with ivyleaf decoration extending the full height of the column. – The first leaf warped, wormholes in the first and the last leaves. On some leaves traces of contemporary annotations. Fol. 85, 88 and 152 amended in the lower margin.Wide margins, in fine condition throughout, miniatures preserved in their original brilliance without any wear. – Late 18th-century red morocco binding tooled in gilt and blind, covers with triple fillets, gilt turn-ins, spine on 5 raised bands in compartments decorated with foliate tools and title. Gilt edges, bright green silk ribbon marker. Front and rear pastedowns and flyleaves out of marbled paper.
PROVENANCE: 1. Justin MacCarthy Reagh (1744-1811, cf. his sale 1815). 2. Lang, his sale at Evans on 7 Nov. 1828, lot 416. 3. Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872), his ms. 3667 (Munby 1968, p. 47). 4. Leather bookplate on front pastedown “DR”. 5. Private collection Europe.
TEXT: fol. 1-124: Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae, in a French verse translation, with Latin glosses: fol. 4v: 1st book; fol. 17v: 2nd book; fol. 41: 3rd book; fol. 73: 4th book; fol. 104v: 5th book. – fol. 125-155: Jean de Meun, Testament. Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (c. 480-524) is considered the last representative of the ideas of ancient Rome. As a minister of high rank he initially enjoyed the undivided support and confidence of Theoderic. In the course of his political career, however, he became involved in a severe dispute, which led to his execution.The Consolation of Philosophy was written in prison, and the author’s hopeless situation provides the text’s characteristic keynote.The work is divided into five books. It counts among the most spirited literary works of Late Antiquity and was one of the most widely copied and read texts in the Middle Ages. Jean de Meun (c. 1290 – c. 1305), who is best known for his sequel to the Roman de la Rose, was the earliest French translator of Boethius’s magnum opus. The French version was in all probability made to the order of Philippe le Beau in 1291-96. The translation at hand represents a variant written in verses and complemented by Latin glosses. However, it cannot be precisely identified, as only very few of the various extant translations have so far been edited. Jean de Meun’s Testament, presumably written after 1291, of which our codex contains an abbreviated version, is of an entirely different nature with its marked theological and moral perspective. The text is carefully edited; chapters omitted in the first place were later added in a slightly smaller script in the margins.The scribe Reynaldus signed his work at the end of the Consolation of Philosophy; however, his signature is crossed out in the same ink that was used for the rubrics.
ILLUMINATION: fol. 4: Historiated initial of the author writing – fol. 4v: The personifications of Philosophy and the muses appearing to the author – fol. 17v: Philosophy and the author – fol. 41: Philosophy and the author – fol. 73: Philosophy and the author – fol. 104v: Philosophy and the author, God the Father appearing in heaven – fol. 125:Trinity with angels. The illumination doubtless is of Parisian origin.The robe of the female figure personifying Philosophy offers a helpful indication of the manuscript’s date of creation: Jeanne de Bourbon, the wife of Charles V, is wearing a similar robe in the Parament of Narbonne (Paris, Musée du Louvre). The Cité des Dames Master, active one generation later, dresses his female figures in c. 1403-05 in robes that still bear close analogies (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fr. 12559). Not much is known about the generation of miniaturists active in Paris before Netherlandish artists introduced new trends there. The artist named Master of Death by Michael Camille belongs to this generation. Referring to a note in a manuscript of the Pèlerinage de vie humaine dated 1393 (Paris, BN, fr. 823, fol. 18v) Camille identified this miniaturist with the painter Perrin Remiet or Remy (Camille 1996). This classification was disproved, however, since various sources bear witness to a period of production from 1368 to 1428. The Master of Jeanne de Ravenelle, an artist formerly named Master of fr. 159 (Sandgren 2002), collaborated with the Master of Death in the illumination of a Bible historiale made to the order of the Duke of Berry at the turn from the 14th to the 15th century (Baltimore,Walters Arts Gallery,W. 125-126).This is the time at which our Boethius manuscript must have been produced, as confirmed also by the style of the decoration. The artist’s brilliant and animated palette, which also includes pastel shades, is indicative of his openness towards innovations in painting. His modulation of shades to create illusionist effects and his first steps towards integrating perspective and three-dimensionality are elements of a mature and wellestablished style which places him at the threshold of the succeeding generation of artists.
LITERATURE: Sales cat. MacCarthy Reagh, Paris 1815; sales cat. Evans, 7 Nov. 1848, lot 416; Munby 1968, p. 47, no. 3667. Courcelle 1967; Randall 1989; Camille 1996; Atherton/ Babbi 2000; Rouse/Rouse 2000; Sandgren 2002; exh. cat. Paris 2004.