The rediscovery of a lost miniature from the splendid Le Peley Hours
48 Batsheba bathingMiniature on vellum from the Hours of Guyot II Le Peley, illuminated by Jean Colombe. France, Bourges, c. 1480.
104 x 60-62 mm, miniature cut around its frame.Verso: 18 lines of text in brown Cursiva Formata (Bastarda), capitals in gold on purple and violet ground, justification: 69 x 48 mm. – Recto in fine condition, minor rubbing, some retouches in the upper portion; verso: flaking of colour pigments has laid bare underdrawings of a historiated border.Text barely legible, as the miniature had been glued onto a leaf from a 15th-century manuscript, blue stains all over the script.
PROVENANCE: Private collection Germany.
TEXT: “… rere mei domine (…) Discedite a me omnes qui…” Verso: Beginning of Psalm 6, the first of the Penitential Psalms, whose first words must have been inscribed on the frame underneath the miniature on the recto. The passage precedes the text on fol. 101 of the Le Peley Hours.
ILLUMINATION: A young girl with long golden hair is standing in the shallow water of a river. Her naked body is exposed to the beholder in an overtly sensual pose, while her eyes, furtively glancing to the left, avoid direct contact. The scene is set in a wide landscape, dominated by a castle with several towers and a bridge spanning the river.To the right the spire of a cathedral shows behind a hill, while the silhouette of another fortress appears in the distant background. Even without the figure of King David who is missing in the present miniature the scene can be identified as Batsheba bathing, one of the standard subjects illustrating the Penitential Psalms in French books of hours. The miniature may be attributed to Jean Colombe, one of the most prolific French illuminators of the later half of the 15th century. The archival research by Jean-Yves Ribault and the manuscript studies by Claude Schaefer and François Avril have provided a relatively clear picture of Colombe’s life and career.The beginning of his activity may be situated around 1460-65.Working at first for the local elite of Bourges he soon attracted the attention of Charlotte of Savoy, queen to Louis XI, and received commissions for manuscripts from various members of the court. It was probably also through Queen Charlotte that Colombe was introduced to her nephew, Charles I, duke of Savoy, who charged him with completing the illumination of two outstanding manuscripts in his library, the famous Très Riches Heures of Jean de Berry and the splendid Apocalypse by Jean Bapteur and Perronet Lamy (Escorial, E. Vit. 5). In 1486 Colombe was appointed official illuminator to the court of Savoy. He retained this position probably up to 1488, when he moved back to Bourges, where he died between 1493 and 1498. One of Colombe’s undisputed chef-d’œuvres is the book of hours for Jean de Laval, seigneur de Châtillon and governor of Champagne. This spectacular manuscript containing no less than 1432 miniatures, of which 157 are full-page,was illuminated in two campaigns, between 1470 and 1475 and after 1485. The dimensions of our cutting and the text portions on its verso reveal its provenance from another luxurious book of hours, whose patron has been identified as Guyot II of the prosperous Troyenne family Le Peley. It appeared on the market only last year and has been acquired by the Médiathèque de l’Agglomération Troyenne (Christie’s, London, 8 June, 2005, lot 31; cf. Delcourt 2005). The lavish illumination of this codex consists of 14 full-page miniatures with elaborate architectural borders. The text pages are decorated with a cycle of scenes from the Old Testament extending over the bas-de-page zone of the entire manuscript, while small miniatures relating to the respective text complete the illustration. In two instances, the openings of the Office of the Virgin and of the Hours of the Cross, two miniatures are set face to face thus forming a diptych. The same arrangement would have been used for the opening of the Penitential Psalms, where the parent manuscript lacks two leaves. A miniature showing King David must have preceded the depiction of Batsheba on the same double page. This explains the absence of David in the bathing scene as well as the woman’s coquettish glance to the left. An interesting motif is the castle, which can be identified as Mehun-sur-Yevre (Département du Cher). Constructed by Jean de Berry from 1366 onwards it became a refuge for King Charles VII during the English occupation of Paris. Of the exquisite castle, which the French chronicler Froissart praised as “l’une des plus belles demeures du monde”, only a ruin survives today. In the miniature the building is seen from the east.The same castle, this time seen from the west, figures in the background of the Annunciation of the Le Peley Hours. Finally the verso of our cutting, though badly mutilated, deserves mention. Interestingly, with the flaking of the colour pigments preparatory drawings in a swift hand have been uncovered, showing a scene with Moses in the bas-de-page and a woman standing in the left margin. She faces to the right towards a man greeting her on the opposite margin of fol. 101 of the Le Peley Hours. These figures most likely represent Batsheba being summoned to David by a messenger. The rediscovery of this beautiful miniature is of high significance, as it constitutes a valuable addition to what may without exaggeration be called one of Colombe’s finest manuscripts.
LITERATURE:This miniature will be published in a forthcoming article by Katharina Georgi. Avril/Reynaud 1993, pp. 326-338; Schaefer 19941, pp. 283- 286; Schaefer 19942 (for earlier articles by the author see note 1); Ribault 1999; Avril 2003, pp. 386-394; sales cat. Christie’s, 8 June, 2005, lot 31; Delcourt 2005; Jacob 2006.