Signifying romance in a time long ago, the Middle Ages fascinated art lovers in the nineteenth century. This masterpiece inspired by medieval manuscripts and printed in glowing colors is an exceptional example of this trend called “New Gothic.” Customized to celebrate the marriage of a prestigious couple, the bride from a famous family of goldsmiths, the volume displays many singular features. It has a made-to-order binding with inserted oil paintings, beautiful fore-edge paintings, bejeweled clasps signed by a well-known jeweler, and the inserted names of the bride and bridegroom with dates of the ceremony.
iii + 101+ ii leaves, paginated in red roman numerals bottom outer corner of each page, 1-192, preceded by one unnumbered leaf, and followed by four unnumbered leaves, complete, all pages is mounted on guards, each page executed in chromolithography with red ruling, gothic text in 21 long lines in black with rubrics in red or blue, one- to three-line “illuminated” initials usually gold, red, or blue on colored grounds (several styles), every text page with full borders, final eight pages are simply framed blank leaves ruled in red meant to be used for family memories, here left empty, in almost pristine condition apart from slight foxing to front endleaves, and rare and very light foxing to a few internal leaves. ORIGINAL binding by Gruel in light brown leather gold-tooled with two double fillets framing an large depressed inner panel, blindtooled with Renaissance-style ornament including four roundels (Moses, St. Paul, King David, and St. Peter), a rectangle and oval left blank at the top and bottom, on the front cover framing a full-color painting of St. Anne and the Virgin Mary done in oils, lettered “S. Anna mater matris dei,” and on the back cover framing a roundel with a monogram including the letters “M. F. L,”surrounded by Renaissance ornament in gold with two full-color cherubs at the top, rounded spine with five raised bands outlined in blind, lettered “GRUEL” in gold at the bottom, dazzling gilt edges with paintings of lilies of the valley and blue bells, two brass clasps by Jules Wiese (his mark, “JW” between two stars visible on the back of the clasps), fastening back to front, enameled in red, blue, and white and set with two red glass gems, inside front and back covers framed with double gold filets and lined with blue watered silk, which also line the facing flyleaves, blue silk ribbon place marker (detached at the top), in nearly pristine condition apart from a few small stains on both covers. Dimensions 154 x 115 mm.
1. This is a deluxe copy that was customized to celebrate the marriage of Marie-Anne Froment-Meurice and Léon Lefebure in January 1874. This date has been added by hand at the top of the frontispiece that precedes the title page, and their names were added, again by hand, in the appropriate place in the marriage ceremony on pp. 106, 109 and 110; their initials are found in the monogram on the back of the binding and on the frontispiece.
The beautiful binding by Gruel (with Gruel’s stamp in gilt at the foot of the spine), features two inset painting in full-color oils, brilliantly gilded edges adorned with exquisite fore-edge paintings of lilies of the valley, and two enamel clasps by Jules Wiese (1818-1890), one of the most important goldsmith and jewelry artists of the nineteenth century, who had earlier worked with the firm of Froment-Meurice from 1839. The bride died just two years after the marriage, which perhaps explains why the book is preserved in such astonishingly fresh condition.
This is the first edition of the prayer book, Heures du Moyen Age, published by Gruel-Engelmann in Paris in 1862, the famous firm of binders, printers, and publishers. Modelled on medieval Books of Hours, the text, borders, and images were executed in the glowing colors of the new medium of chromolithography. Each copy was intended to be customized upon purchase; the buyers must have chosen the type of binding they wanted, and the appropriate names and dates were added to the text by hand.
It is difficult to determine how many copies were made; six copies are listed in World Cat in institutional collections (only one in the United States), but copies must exist in private collections. This exemplar is one of the finest, distinguished by its binding, and by its association with the jewelers Froment-Meurice, and Jules Wiese.
2. Private European collection (descent through the Lefebure family).
[front flyleaf, f. iv], jeweled pendant, with motto “sursum,” customized with the date of the marriage of Marie-Anne Froment-Meurice and Léon Lefebure, “January 1874”; [blank on verso];
p. 1, [Title page], Heures du Moyen Age, Gruel-Engelman, Rue Royale S. Honoré 10, Paris mdccclxii;
p. 2, Noms des Collaborateurs: direction artistique, J[ean] Engelmann, Peinture, Ed[ouard] Moreau; Execution sur pierre: H. Moulin; Chromolithographie Engelmann et Graf, 12 rue de l’Abbaye St. Germain à Paris;
pp. 3-14, Calendar in French in two columns with one month per page; feasts for every day of the month are supplied in black, with important feasts in red;
pp. 15-29, [morning prayers], Prières du Matin ….;
pp. 30-44, [evening prayers], Prières du soir …;
pp. 45-60, [Ordinary of the Mass], Ordinaire de la Messe, …;
pp. 61-71, Canon of the Mass;
pp. 72-77, [Prayers before Communion], Prières qui précedent la Communion;
pp. 77-78, [Prayer after Mass], Prière après la messe
pp. 78-80, Sequences for Easter and Pentecost;
pp. 81-93, [Prayers in French] Avis préliminaies au mariage …;
pp. 94-102, [On the sacrament of marriage], Du sacrement de mariage …;
pp. 103-112, [the marriage ceremony], Ceremonies du Mariage …;
The names of Leon Lefébure and Marie-Anne Froment-Meurice were supplied by hand in the appropriate places during the ceremony, pp. 106, 109-110.
pp. 113-127, [Nuptial Mass], Messe du mariage …;
pp. 128-139, [Vespers for Sundays and feast days], Vespres des dimanches et fêtes …;
pp. 140-145, [Compline for Sundays and feast days], Complies des dimanches et fêtes …;
pp. 146-187, Canticles and other Prayers for various times in the liturgical year; in Latin and French on facing pages;
pp. 188-190, Oraison universelle pour tout ce que regarde le salut, … fin;
pp. 191-192, Table of contents;
[eight unnumbered pages], Souvenirs de famille …;
Pages with simple borders and lined spaces to use to record family occasions [none have been used here].
The title of this volume, Heures du Moyen Age (Hours of the Middle Ages), tells us immediately that the creators of this exquisite volume were directly inspired by medieval Books of Hours. Some of the most famous illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages are Books of Hours – prayer books for private devotion mostly used by lay people rather than by priests or other clerics. The decorative conventions of Books of Hours are followed closely here. Each new section of the text begins with a large, almost full-page image set above a few lines of text, surrounded by a full-color border extending on all four sides. Textually, this is more of a departure from the medieval tradition, and one could better describe it as a Mass Book for lay use, with prayers for the Mass, notably including the marriage Mass and the preceding marriage ceremony, together with daily prayers.
Frontispiece, Jeweled pendant with two cameos, personalized with the date of the marriage and the couple’s initials;
p. 1 (title page), Knight kneeling in prayer, heraldic shields and mottos in margins, used generically (they do not apply to this couple);
p. 2, An imaginative scene at a royal court (perhaps the heavenly court) with two kings (one King David with harp?), Moses, and male and female musicians; (with the names of the people who collaborated on this book in the bottom corner on a scroll);
p. 15, The Trinity (God the Father and Jesus in red robes seated on a golden throne, the dove between them on an open book); margins, grisaille scenes of the Passion;
p. 30, The Virgin and Child seated in front of a crowd of standing attendants in pink under a gold canopy;
p. 45, Two kneeling angels holding a grisaille medallion of the Crucifixion;
p. 61, Crucifixion, with the Virgin, John, and the two Marys on the left, and a crowd of soldiers in the background;
p. 72, Arrest of Christ;
p. 81, Bishop blessing newly married couple;
p. 94, Annunciation;
p. 103, Marriage ceremony in a church porch;
p. 113, Visitation;
p. 129, Presentation at the Temple;
p. 140, Adoration of the Magi;
p. 154, Nativity;
p. 155, Adoration of the Shepherds.
The calendar pages are decorated with roundels of the zodiac, and the labors of the month: January, Aquarius, the water carrier, warming by the fire; February, Pisces, the fish, pruning vines; March, Aries, the ram, planting or tilling (a man with shovel); April, Taurus, the bull, sowing; May, Gemini, the twins, man riding; June, Cancer, the crab, tilling; July, Leo, the lion, scything; August, Virgo, the virgin, winnowing; September, Libra, the scales, stomping on grapes; October, Scorpio, the scorpion, sowing; November, Sagittarius, the archer, gathering acorns for pigs; December, Capricorn, the goat, butchering pigs. Additional roundels depict major feasts: for example, in January, the Presentation at the temple, and the Visit of the three Magi, and in December, the Nativity.
Every page includes a full border, some inspired by medieval borders (in a wide range of styles), and others original creations by the artist who worked on this book (see for example the “oriental”-style border on p. 107). All are executed in rich colors with vivid backgrounds (gold, bright blue, green, purple, and red). Many of the borders are in the style of the naturalistic strewn borders of the late fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Ghent-Bruges school (for example p. 17, with a rosary; p. 19, flowers and initials, strapwork, acanthus). Others are Italian in inspiration (for example, pp.116-119, with Florentine, Northern Italian, and white vine borders), or are modelled on French rinceaux borders with gold ivy leaves, grotesques, and acanthus (for example, pp. 162-165). Numerous borders include figurative vignettes, for example, p. 16, arching, p. 27, at a jewelry stall, pp. 44-45, angels, p. 94, jousting, pp. 96-97, scenes from the life of Christ, p. 114, mammals, and p. 115, birds.
The artist, Edouard Jean-Baptiste Moreau (1825-1878) was a miniature painter and draftsmen. He studied at Ecole des Beaux-Arts and with H. Lehmann, and appeared at the Salon de Paris from 1848 to 1875 with gouaches and miniatures on parchment usually treating historical subjects. He also worked in the decorative arts; a painted fan by him is found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Here we see that he was well-versed in the art of the later Middle Ages, drawing inspiration from a very wide range of Books of Hours dating from the early fifteenth into the sixteenth century from across Europe (France, the Low Countries, and Italy). Most of the images and borders are creative re-imaginings rather than direct copies, perhaps inspired by the numerous reproductions of medieval manuscripts made in the second half of the nineteenth century in Paris, often reproduced by chromolithography. A fuller study of their sources is merited.
The number of important names in the world of nineteenth-century books and jewelry associated with this volume is remarkable. As noted above, it was customized for the marriage of Marie-Anne Froment-Meurice to Léon Lefebure, a wealthy Norman aristocrat. Marie-Anne’s father, François-Désiré Froment-Meurice, and her brother Emile, were both famous goldsmiths and jewelry artists. Her father won two silver medals at the 1839 Exposition des produits de l'industrie— which gained him the appointment as orfèvre-joailler to the city of Paris— and a gold medal in the French Industrial Exposition of 1844. From 1849, he exhibited successfully in London and across Europe. He worked for some of the most illustrious people of his day; in his appointment to the city of Paris he was responsible for the ceremonial cradle (berceau d’apparat) offered by Paris at the birth of the Prince Impérial Eugène-Louis Napoleon, now in the Musée Carnavalet. He died at the peak of his fame in 1855. His son, Émile Froment-Meurice (1837–1913), took over the firm and followed in his father’s footsteps, participating in the Exposition Universelle in 1867.
Certainly, this book must have been a very special gift to the newly married couple from someone who spared no expense. Its marvelous painted Gruel binding that includes the new married couple’s initials is by far more lavish than the other surviving examples of Heures du Moyen Age known to us. The jeweled clasps by Jules Wiese must have had special meaning for the bride, and in fact suggest this was a gift from her family to the new couple. (The jeweled pendant depicted on the frontispiece must have appealed to this family of jewelers and goldsmiths). Jules Wiese (1818-1890) was born in Berlin. He moved to Paris in 1839, where he worked with François-Désiré Froment-Meurice. In 1849 Wiese and Froment-Meurice were awarded a medal at the Paris World Exhibition which subsequently lead to many new commissions. He specialized in Neo-Gothic and Neo-Renaissance styles, and in an archaeological style using Hellenistic motifs of lions and rams. His enamel work was highly esteemed, and in 1855 he was awarded a medal at the Universal Exhibition of Paris.
The Engelmann and Gruel families, two of the most important families in the world of the book arts in nineteenth-century France, are also part of the history of the Heures du Moyen Age. A fully-automated process of color lithography – chromolithography – was invented by Godefroy Engelmann (1788-1839) in 1836. The Société Engelmann, Père et Fils, founded by Engelmann with his son Jean Engelmann in 1837, quickly established itself as the leading company in France for the printing of facsimiles of illuminated manuscripts. On the death of his father Jean took over the firm, joined by August Graf in 1842.
The Gruel bindery, one of the most prominent binders in the nineteenth century (and continuing until 1967) was founded by Auguste-Pierre-Paul Gruel (1800-1846) (who acquired the firm from his first wife’s father). Paul remarried, and his second wife, Catherine Mercier (1813-1896), took over the firm on his death. Catherine married a second time in 1850, this time to another prominent member of the book trade, the printer Jean Engelmann, just mentioned above. Gruel-Engelmann was particularly known for their illustrated devotional works, and continued the tradition of producing fine bindings, treasured by their contemporaries and by collectors today.
Bouquillard, Jocelyn. “Les fac-similés d’enluminures a l’époque romantiques,” Nouvelles de L’Estampe 160-161 (1998), pp. 6-17.
Hindman, Sandra, Michael Camille, Nina Rowe, and Rowan Watson. Manuscript Illumination in the Modern Age: Recovery and Reconstruction, eds. Sandra Hindman and Nina Rowe, Evanston, Illinois, 2001.
Marchesseau, Daniel. 2003. Trésors d'argent: les Froment-Meurice : orfèvres romantiques parisiens. Paris: Paris musées.
Nordenfalk, Carl Adam Johan. Color of the Middle Ages: A Survey of Book Illumination Based on Color Facsimiles of Medieval Manuscripts: Catalogue, Pittsburgh, 1976.
Twyman, Michael. A History of Chromolithography: Printed Colour for All. The British Library/Oak Knoll Press, 2013.
“Pour en finir avec la généalogie des Gruel,” May 1, 2013 (Histoire de la bibliophilie)
Dictionnaire des imprimeurs-lithographes du XIXe siècle