A hitherto unknown book of hours for a noble patron with an ingenious miniature cycle by Maître François
26 Book of hours, use of Rome, with adaptations to the use of Poitiers and a calendar for AngersManuscript on vellum, illuminated by Maître François. France, Paris, c. 1470.
102 x 80 mm. 151+2 leaves. I10, II8, III10, IV8,V1 (37, the remaining (seven?) leaves of the quire are missing),VI8-1,VII8,VIII8-2, IX-XII8, XIII12+3, XIV-XVIII8, XIX8-2+2 (146-153, lacks 1 before fol. 146, and at least one after 150, 151 blank, fol. 152 and 153 are inserted singletons, cut from waste paper, containing Spanish prayers in a 16th-century hand, the stubs are filled with fragmentary lines of text in a gothic book hand). Foliation in pencil. – Written space: 51 x 35 mm, ruled in purple for 11 lines.Text written in a fine Cursiva Formata (Bastarda), rubricated in purple. The colouring scheme of the minor initials changes several times throughout the manuscript, some quires contain golden initials on an alternately blue and red ground, others on a brown ground. One four-line historiated initial (fol. 95). 15 (of probably 16 originally) miniatures above two lines of text, one full-page miniature, all magnificently decorated by full borders of coloured flowers, red and blue acanthus leaves with fruits, birds and butterflies, many of them on gold ground. – 16th-century blind-stamped black leather binding, covers panelled with floral roll-tool, gilt edges. Spine restored (upper joint slightly cracked), modern vellum endpapers, modern book case.
PROVENANCE: 1.The coat-of-arms of the patron appears on fol. 24, 29, 56v, 64v. It is composed of a golden plant or tree with three ramifications on a red ground (“De gueules au créquier d’or”). In addition the two initials ‘D’ and ‘M’ joined by a love-knot can be found on fol. 19, 24, 26v, 56v, 64v, 70. This coat-of-arms has been connected with the Créquy, a noble family resident in Artois and Picardie, whose coat-of-arms, however, shows an exact inversion of the heraldic colours (“D’or au créquier de gueules”). Although their family estates are situated in a considerable distance to the region for whose use the book of hours is adapted, it is not impossible that its first owner belonged to this family. 2. Unknown Spanish owner, who, probably during the 16th century, added the prayers in Spanish (fol. 152 and 153) and possibly also arranged for a new binding of the manuscript. Probably a member of the Franciscan order as evidenced by the Invocation of St Francis at the end of the prayers. 3. Engel-Gros, Paris, his sale at Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 2 June 1921, lot 10. 4.André Hachette, his sale at Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 16 December 1953, lot 22 (bookplate on the inside of front cover). 5. R. Zierer (bookplate on the inside of front cover). 6. Sold in London (Sotheby’s, 5 December 1989, lot 110). 7. Private collection Europe.
TEXT: fol. 1-18v: Calendar in French, among the saints figure the names of a number of bishops of Angers – fol. 19- 18v: Gospel lessons – fol. 29-94v: Office of the Virgin; some passages of Matins missing; alternating with Hours of the Cross, beginning missing (before fol. 56) and Hours of the Holy Spirit; fol. 95-98v:“O intemerata”; fol. 98v: Suffrage to St Peter and Paul – fol. 99-104: Office for Advent; fol. 104v- 105v: blank – fol. 106-136: Penitential Psalms; fol. 123v: Litany – fol. 136v-150v: Office of the Dead, lacks one leaf between fol. 145 and 146, text breaks off during Matins, shortly before the ending of the first nocturn. Second and third nocturns are missing, it is uncertain, however, whether they ever existed – fol. 152v-153: Prayers in Spanish, added during the 16th century.
ILLUMINATION: fol. 19: St John on Patmos – fol. 21v: St Luke – fol. 24: St Matthew – fol. 26v: St Mark - fol. 29: Annunciation – fol. 41:Visitation (Crucifixion missing) – fol. 56v: Pentecost – fol. 58: Nativity – fol. 64v:Annunciation to the Shepherds – fol. 70: Adoration of the Magi – fol. 75v: Presentation – fol. 81: Herod giving orders for the Massacre of the Innocents – fol. 89v: Coronation of the Virgin – fol. 95: Virgin with child (historiated initial), fol. 106: David praying – fol. 136v: Battle scene – fol. 143: Funeral scene. A very characteristic feature of the artist are the arches composed of carved tracery and supported by polychrome columns that serve as frames to all scenes set in an interior. Another hallmark is the colour scheme employed on the figures, consisting of grisaille technique with pale violet shades. The movements of the figures are rather schematic, without any inventive or original postures, but their gesturing is precise and easily decipherable. The landscapes are beautifully enriched by vistas onto cities. This stylistic idiom can be connected with Maître François, an artist who is documented by archival records. His name is mentioned in a letter by Robert Gaguin who reports that the painter (“egregius pictor Franciscus”) could possibly be engaged for the illumination of the Cité de Dieu manuscript commissioned by Charles de Gaucourt (Paris, BN, fr. 18-19) which constitutes the key to the œuvre of Maître François. The illumination of this manuscript was executed between 1469, the date of the explicit, and 1473, the date of the letter. The extremely prolific workshop of Maître François dominated Parisian manuscript illumination during the third quarter of the 15th century. Over 50 manuscripts are attributable to the master and his workshop, among them luxurious commissions for influential patrons such as Charles de Gaucourt, Jacques d’Armagnac, Philippe de Commyne, Jacques Langeac and Mathieu Beauvarlet.The artist’s œuvre comprises about 30 books of hours of small or medium size (Avril/Reynaud 1993, p. 45). This only recently rediscovered manuscript is a select product of the workshop of Maître François. It was made to the order of a specific patron, in all likelihood a member of the Créquy family, whose taste differed from the conventional as is attested e.g. by the choice of subjects in the illustration cycle which includes a miniature of Herod giving his order for the Massacre of the Innocents - a subject of great rarity in manuscript illumination, specifically in French books of hours - and a battle scene introducing the Office of the Dead, a choice that is probably unique.
LITERATURE: Sales cat. Engel-Gros 1921, lot 10; sales cat.A. Hachette 1953, lot 22; sales cat. Sotheby’s 5 Dec. 1989, lot 110. Spencer, 1974; Manion 1981; Sterling 1990, pp. 192-213; König 1993, no. 21, pp. 340-355; Avril/Reynaud 1993, nos. 14-17, pp. 45-52; Milman 1995.