The most lavishly illuminated manuscript known by the Master of Pommersfelden 351
15 Book of hours, use of ToulManuscript on vellum, illuminated by the Master of Pommersfelden 351.
France,Toul or Metz, c. 1435-40.
192 x 133 mm. 222 leaves, complete, inclusive of flyleaves: I-XXVII8, XXVIII6, remnants of vertical catchwords in a fine bastard script survive in some places. – Written space: 103 x 66 mm, 15 lines, calendar: 17 lines to the page, written space: 112 x 89 mm, ruled in black.Written in a Textualis in black ink, versal initials stroked in yellow, one-line initials with fleuronnée, two- to four-line initials with ivyleaf decoration. – 12 vignettes for the calendar, 18 miniatures within full borders with decoration consisting of acanthus leaves and flowers. – Overall good condition, wear resulting from devotional kisses or tears testifying to a pious owner. – 16th-century French binding, brown calf, simple blind and gold-tooled fillets and oval centrepieces reminiscent of the Fanfare style, gilt edges. Spine and corners carefully restored. In a modern book case.
PROVENANCE: 1.The book was probably commissioned for a woman, who is depicted on fol. 90v. 2. Notes of ownership relating to the Tertiary Order of St Francis in Nancy written in a baroque hand on fol. 1, 11v, 24 and 223. 3. Private collection Europe.
TEXT: fol. 1-4: Prayers, including the beginning of the Gospel of St John; fol. 3: Prayers for travelling – fol. 4v: Hours of the Holy Cross – fol. 12: Calendar (October left unfinished) – fol. 25: Office of the Virgin – fol. 81: Prayers to be recited in various situations throughout the day – fol. 90v/91: Mass for the Virgin and Suffrage to St Claudius – fol. 94v/95: Penitential Psalms – fol. 107: Litany – fol. 115: Office of the Dead – fol. 155: Prayers to the Lord and the Virgin; suffrages and prayers to individual saints. The saints in the calendar, litany and suffrages point to the diocese of Toul (Lorraine). Patrons of Metz are missing.The choice of prayers seems to adhere to traditions preceding the standardizations brought about in Paris around 1410/20. Another interesting feature is the position of the Hours of the Cross at the beginning of the volume.This can be found also in some English books of hours, such as Cod. Pal. Lat. 537 of the Biblioteca Vaticana (Plotzek 1992).
ILLUMINATION: fol. 4v: Christ on the Mount of Olives and Arrest of Christ – fol. 5v: Christ before Annas – fol. 6v: Pilate ordering the flagellation of Christ – fol. 7v: Bearing of the Cross with a procession extending into the borders – fol. 8v: Christ being nailed onto the cross – fol. 9v: Nocturnal scene: Longinus piercing Christ’s flank – fol. 10v: Entombment of Christ – fol. 12-24: 12 small miniatures showing the labours of the months – fol. 25:Annunciation – fol. 35:Visitation – fol. 46: Nativity – fol. 43v: Annunciation to the Shepherds - fol. 58: Adoration of the Magi – fol. 62: Presentation – fol. 67: Arrival of the Holy Family in Egypt, bas-de-page: Massacre of the Innocents – fol. 75v: Dormition of the Virgin – fol. 90v:Virgin with St Barbara and Katherine and a lady in prayer – fol. 94v: David in Penitence – fol. 115: Encounter with death, bas-de-page: funeral rites. The miniature cycle contains numerous surprising depictions which upset well-known iconographic conventions. In particular, the narrative elements which the illuminator adds to many of his miniatures are remarkable. The Bearing of the Cross is enlivened by a procession scene breaking through the margin of the miniature and linking it with the bas-de-page. One of the most fascinating achievements, however, is the last miniature which shows a unique version of the popular theme of the encounter between the three living and the dead, where the three skeletons face a party consisting of representatives of all social orders, thus enlarging the scene to something like an abbreviation of the Danse macabre. The hand of the illuminator can also be perceived in another book of hours for the use of Toul, Hs. 351 of the Schlossbibliothek of Pommersfelden (Plotzek 1987; Kahsnitz 1989). Plotzek distinguished a marked German influence despite the general indebtedness of the artist to French illumination and perceived a close affinity with the miniatures of another – now unfortunately dismembered - book of hours from the same region (Sotheby’s, 24 June 1986, lot 105). In his examination of the œuvre of Henri d’Orquevaulz, the dominant figure of manuscript illumination in Metz during the second third of the 15th century, François Avril discovered two further miniatures which could be attributed to our illuminator in a lectionary (Epinal ms. 265) illuminated by several regional artists (exh. cat. Metz 1989, pp. 69-80). In contrast to Henri d’Orquevaulz, whose well-established œuvre characterizes him as an artist who was greatly influenced by stylistic innovations brought about in the regions of the Upper and Lower Rhine, French elements remain predominant in the works of our artist. The proportions of the figures are determined by their respective importance, with the result that protagonists acting in the background are often taller than ancillary figures in the foreground.The upsetting of such compositional rules which had been established at least since the generation following the Duke of Berry (d. 1416) links the miniatures at issue with the works of another important artist of the time, the Master of the Grandes Heures de Rohan, whose œuvre, however, is of an altogether distinct nature stylistically. Of the illuminations here ascribed to our artist the book of hours under discussion is the most luxurious specimen. Especially noteworthy is the rich use of burnished gold and silver in the miniatures as well as the border decoration.The singular character of the illumination, the highly idiosyncratic style and the independence from contemporary figures such as Henri d’Orquevaulz and the Rohan Master make it difficult to date the manuscript. The finely drawn figures with their small heads, the artist’s rendering of landscape by piling up horizontal planes one onto another without concerning himself with spatial depth and the delight he takes in narrative accessory scenes suggest a date of around 1435.
LITERATURE: The manuscript is hitherto unpublished. Sales cat. Sotheby’s 24 June, lot 105; Plotzek 1987, no. 26, pp. 122-24; exh. cat. Metz 1989, pp. 69-80; Kahsnitz 1989, no. 370, pp. 484-86; Plotzek 1992.