The “prince of illumination” Simon Marmion was responsible for this Book of Hours. This beautiful manuscript is remarkable for its delicate painting executed in soft, pastel tones, known as “semi-grisaille,” a technique Marmion perfected. A wealthy monastery, St.-Jean-Baptiste of Valenciennes, commissioned the book, and the foundation also owned panel paintings (now destroyed) by the famous artist. Born in Amiens, Marmion moved in 1458 to the more flourishing town of Valenciennes then in the County of Hainaut to take advantage of the patronage of the affluent Dukes of Burgundy who controlled the town. The Dukes also actively sponsored art in local religious foundations.
84 ff., lacking an undetermined number of leaves rendering collation impossible, including at least seven with miniatures, 24 long lines, ruled in red, written in dark brown ink in bâtarde script, justification 105 x 70 mm., rubrics in red, text capitals touched in yellow, 5-line initial in blue with white tracery against a ground of pink and gold, 1- and 2-line initials of burnished gold on grounds of pink and blue, occasional line-fillers of similar type, one large miniature with full-page border and 14 small miniatures accompanied by panel borders on one or both sides with sprays of brown and blue acanthus, fruit and flowers and inhabited by birds, minor rubbing to a few miniatures and borders, around ten leaves remargined in gutter, some discreet modifications to text to conceal lacunae. Nineteenth-century French red morocco, gilt-blocked to a cathedral style, gilt spine, gilt edges, marbled endleaves, slight wear to joints and corners. Dimensions 158 x 110 mm.
ff. 1-3v, Hours of the Virgin, with Sext, antiphona: In prole mater, capitulum: Gaude Maria, response: Dignare me;
ff. 4-24v, Abbreviated Hours for the Days of the Week of All Saints for Tuesdays (ff. 4-7v), with rubric, S’ensieuent les heures de tous les sains lesquelles on doit dire les mardis a matines, of the Holy Spirit for Wednesdays (ff. 8-11v), with rubric, Chy apres s’ensieuent heures du saint esperit lesquelles se dient les merquedis a matines, of the Sacrament for Thursdays (ff. 11v-15v), with rubric, Chi après s’ensievent les heures du sacrament lesquelles se dient les yoedis, of the Dead for Fridays, lacking Matins and Lauds (ff. 16-20v), of the Virgin for Saturdays (ff. 21-24v), with rubric, S’ensieuent les heures de nostre damme pour le sampdy a matines;
ff. 25-28v, Hours of the Virgin, end of Lauds followed by Memorials for Peace and All Saints;
ff. 29-32, Mass of the Virgin, lacking opening;
ff. 32-35, Gospel Extracts;
ff. 35-35v, O intemerata, lacking end;
ff. 36-46v, Vigils of the Dead, fragment (but corresponding to the use of Cambrai);
ff. 47-51, Suffrages to Saints Margaret (lacking opening), Elizabeth, Apollonia, Mary Magdalene, Barbara, Ursula, All Saints and the Holy Spirit;
ff. 51v-52, Seven verses of St Bernard, rubric, Chy après s’ensieuent les .viii. [sic] vers saint Bernard”;
ff. 52-53v, Prayer preceded by a long rubric, Ceste orison qui s’ensieult fu trouvee deriere l’autel saint piere a romme et li pape Jehan de ce nom .xii. donna a tous cheulx et celles qui devotement diront ceste orison qui s’ensieult en quelconques eglise ou chimentiere que ce soit avec ung pater noster et ave maria pour autant d’ans de pardons qu’il y a eult de corps ensepveli en le ditte eglise et chimentiere depuis le remier ensepveli jusques que on dira le ditte orison;
ff. 53v-54, Seven Last Words, rubric, S’ensieuent les .vii. parolles que nostre signeur dist pendant en la croix;
ff. 55-55v, Recommendation of the souls, rubric, S’ensieuent les commendes des ames;
ff. 55v-84v, Psalms and prayers, including Litany, with many uncommon additions from Cambrai, Mons, and the Franco-Flemish border, saints Gislenus, Wasnulph, Acarius, Humberte, Waldetrudis, Aldegundis, Ragenfredis, and Vindicianus.
f. 1, Adoration of the Magi;
f. 4, All Saints;
f. 8, Pentecost, set in a landscape;
f. 11v, Procession;
f. 21, Annunciation to the Virgin;
f. 47, St Elizabeth;
f. 47v, St Apollonia;
f. 48, St Mary Magdalene;
f. 48v, St Barbara;
f. 49v, St Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins;
f. 50, All Saints;
f. 50v, Ascension;
f. 51v, St Bernard with the Devil;
f. 52v, Death striding through a landscape;
f. 53v, Crucifixion.
The careful execution of the manuscript and the unusual choice of texts and their illustrations (for example, f. 52v, an emaciated cadaver carrying his sarcophagus to illustrate a common prayer of indulgence) exclude a routine production of the book trade. This interesting and beautiful made-to-order Book of Hours, destined for a patron living in the western, French-speaking diocese of Cambrai, offers an excellent witness to the functioning of the atelier of the painter-illuminator Simon Marmion, both in its cycle of illustrations and in its marginal decoration. Born in Amiens in the late 1420s and trained there, Marmion was one of the most esteemed miniaturists of his generation, called in his day the “prince d’enluminure.” He moved to Valenciennes by 1458, where he lived and worked until his death in 1489. A miniature of the Holy Virgins greeted by Christ at the Gates of Paradise from the lost Breviary of Charles the Bold, ca. 1465-70 (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Collection Robert Lehman,1975.I.2477) has the best claim to being a documented work by the artist and provides a basis for reconstructing his oeuvre. But little was known about his atelier until Marc Gil published in 1998 a manuscript newly acquired by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (MS nouv. acq. lat. 3214), which he attributed to the artist (possibly) and his workshop in the 1460s.
Malachite green, pale pink or salmon, azure of great purity, powdered gold, and gilded bronze or silver, very rarely seen, create the effect of a great sweetness. This sophisticated and unusual use of colors is characteristic of the palette of Marmion in the Visions of Tondal, written for Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy, in 1474 (Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, MS 30). In addition, the miniature of the Adoration of the Magi (f. 1) offers a synthesis of elements that are found separately in the Nativities and Adorations of the Magi in numerous Books of Hours executed by Marmion and his workshop between 1460 and 1489. The author of this miniature and the smaller illustrations has perfectly integrated both the technique and the models of Marmion, skillfully displaying a full awareness of the canon of his figures and their poses (ff. 4, 8, 21, 50). In this regard, he evokes certain details of the leaf of the Holy Virgins mentioned above. However, he distinguishes himself from his master in the execution of the faces, the vast barren landscapes, and by the simplification of his architecture.
The marginal decoration, which permits interesting parallels with contemporary Ghent illumination, is the other interesting feature of the manuscript. The vignettes of text are framed by a gold filet and ornamented with plump, thick acanthus, whose numerous knobby stems with bare roots are of azure and bronze. These resemble the marginal decoration of two treatises on morals copied by David Aubert in Ghent for Margaret of York ca. 1470-75 (Iena, Thüringer Universitäts-und Landesbibliothek, Cod. Gall F.85, and Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 365). But, the originality of the margins in the present manuscript lies in the fact that the branches of acanthus, executed by the same hand as the miniatures, are posed simply on the background of ivory-colored parchment, without any other decorative elements except for the delicate birds naturalistically observed that populate the borders. The visual effect obtained is one of great elegance, the decorated borders harmonizing perfectly with the style of the paintings. On the basis of its miniatures and border decoration, the present manuscript can thus be attributed to a member of Marmion’s workshop, one who worked side-by-side with the master in the later 1470s instead of in the 1460s when the Paris Book of Hours was painted. We are grateful for Marc Gil for his observations on and analysis of the present manuscript.
Gil, Marc."Un livre d’heures inédit de l’atelier de Simon Marmion à Valenciennes," Revue de l'art 121, 1998, pp. 43-48.
Hindman, Sandra, D'Ancona, Mirella, Palladino, Pia and Saffiotti, Maria Francesca. The Robert Lehman Collection, IV Illuminations, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997, pp. 61-72.
Kren, Thomas, and McKendrick, Scot. Illuminating the Renaissance: the Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe, Los Angeles, CA, J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003.
Kren, Thomas, and. Wieck, Roger S. The Visions of Tondal from the Library of Margaret of York, Malibu, CA, J. Paul Getty Museum, 1990.