An interesting and hitherto unknown French artist who deserves attention painted this Book of Hours. His miniatures exhibit a certain freedom with traditional iconography and formal arrangements similar to that of artists in Central France and the Loire Valley. Notable are his softly painted landscape vistas, varied architectural frames, and an especially engaging use of detail in the Annunciation. The manuscript is further enriched by its eminent provenance, for it belonged to the great southern French bibliophile, Charles de Baschi, Marquis d’Aubaïs (1686-1777).
ii (modern paper) + 214 + ii (modern paper), folios on parchment, lacking 2 leaves, modern foliation in pencil, 1-214 (collation i12 ii8 [first leaf removed, with loss of text] iii- xxiii8 xxiv8 [last leaf removed, with loss of text] xxv-xxvi8 xxvii4), vertical catchwords (some omitted), written in brown ink in cursive bookhand (“lettre bâtarde”) on 18 lines (justification 82 x 46 mm), ruled in red ink, thirteen 3-6-line blue initials with white highlights, in-filled with daisies, roses, thistles and pimpernels, eight outer margins decorated with flowers, fruit and acanthus leaves, FIVE SMALL MINIATURES, FIVE FULL-PAGE MINIATURES in architectural frames; small smudges in a few margins, otherwise in excellent condition. Bound in the eighteenth century for Charles de Baschi, marquis d'Aubaïs, in red morocco, the spine with five raised bands gold-tooled with filets, fleurons and crowns; the gold-tooled covers with double-fillets and corner fleurons are stamped with the arms of de Baschi; binding restored in the nineteenth or early twentieth century, with a box covered with marbled paper. Dimensions 143 x 84 mm.
1. It is challenging to localize the production of this French Book of Hours. It has a composite calendar with a feast inscribed on each day. Among the numerous French saints, none of the unusual local saints (e.g. Ursinus of Bourges, Metrannus of Provence, Amadour of Rocamadour) is highlighted, and there are no local saints in the litanies. The Hours of the Virgin and the Office of the Dead are for the use of Rome. Certain material aspects suggest the Loire Valley. Blue ink is used for rubrics alongside red ink, and the most important feast days in the calendar are transcribed in blue. The use of blue ink in this way, as well as the vertical catchwords, became popular at the end of the fifteenth century especially in Tours. The Renaissance architraves that frame the full-page miniatures, and the putti that decorate the architecture framing the Annunciation also point to the center of France, Bourges, Tours or Angers. Various compositions derive from Tours and Bourges. The landscapes painted in delicate atmospheric perspective, with diluted blues suggesting distant horizons, are typical of Bourges and Tours. However, since motifs and artists frequently moved between these cities, and to and from Paris around 1500, it is difficult to pinpoint where the book was made, although Bourges or Tours seems most likely. The mention of Metrannus and Amadour, however, suggest that the book was made for someone in Southern France.
2. The armorial binding (Olivier, Hermal, de Roton, pl. 452,2) and armorial bookplate (after 1724) inside the front cover are those of the great bibliophile Charles de Baschi, Marquis d’Aubaïs (Languedoc) (1686-1777). Charles de Baschi, marquis d'Aubaïs, was an author of notable works on history and geography and was a member of the Academies of Nîmes and Marseille. His celebrated library comprised over 20 000 volumes by the time he reached the ages of 57. Most of it is housed today in the public libraries of Aix-en-Provence and Marseille, and the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
In the seventeenth or eighteenth century, eight lines of text were written in large italic script on the blank leaf f. 211: “Diva Joanna regina Sicilia” referring to Jeanne de Laval (1433-1498), queen consort of Sicily. Below it reads: “Divi heroes francis liliis cruceque Illustris icedunt ingiter parantes ad superos Iter,” which is a transcription, with errors, of the inscription below the busts of René of Anjou and of Sicily, and his wife, Jeanne de Laval, on the edifice of the castle of Tarascon: “Divi heroes francis liliis cruce que illustres incedunt jugiter parentes ad superos iter.”
ff. 1-12v, Calendar.
ff. 13-17v, Gospel lessons; the first leaf is missing containing the beginning of the text and undoubtedly a 8-line miniature of St John; incipit, “venit et sui eum non receperunt.“
ff. 18-21v, Obsecro te, masculine forms.
ff. 21v-25v, O intemerata.
ff. 25v-27, the prayer “Saluto te beatissima virgo maria…”.
ff. 27-37v, Passion according to St John, followed by prayer “Deus qui manus tuas et pedes tuos...”.
ff. 37v-41, prayer to Christ, “Conditor celi et terre…”.
ff. 41-43, the Marian prayer, Stabat mater, followed by the prayer “Interveniat pro nobis…”.
f. 43v blank.
ff. 44-99v, the Hours of the Virgin, use of Rome, followed by Marian prayers.
ff. 100-107, the Marian hymn “Salve sancta parens…”, followed by the prayer “Concede nos famulos tuos…”, a reading from the Book of Wisdom, Lectio libri sapientiae, “Ab initio et ante secula…” , a reading from the Gospel of Luke, “In illo tempore…”, and Marian prayers.
f. 107v blank.
ff. 108-111, Short Hours of the Cross.
f. 111v blank.
ff. 112-115, Short Hours of the Holy Spirit.
f. 115v blank.
ff. 116-136, Penitential Psalms and litanies.
f. 136v blank.
ff. 137-179v, Office of the Dead, use of Rome; this variant has only eight instead of nine lessons (“Pelli mee consumptis carnibus…” is omitted and “Quare de vulva eduxisti me…” is the last one), and the rubrics for versicles are interchanged with those for responses throughout.
ff. 180-181v, the prayer “O bone ihesu, o dulcissime ihesu…”.
ff. 181v-184, Seven verses of St. Bernard, rubric in French.
ff. 184-186v, Seven Prayers of St. Gregory, preceded by a long rubric in French explaining the indulgence attached to the image.
ff. 186v-202v, Suffrages to the Trinity, the Holy Sacrament, the Holy Face, Michael, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, Peter and Paul, James, All Apostles, Laurent, Christopher, Sebastian, Denis, Several Martyrs, Nicholas, Claude, Antoine, Anne, Magdalene, Katherine, Margaret, Barbara, and Apollonia, followed by the prayer “Omnipotens sempiterne deus….”
Curiously, on f. 187v the catchword “Salve” was inscribed by error, although the following quire begins with the prayer to the Holy Face (“Deus qui nobis…”). On f. 99v, at the end of quire xii, the catchword preceding the hymn “Salve sancta parens…” was omitted. Nevertheless, the leaves were bound in correct order.
ff. 202v-209, Marian prayer Missus est, preceded by the rubric in French instructing to say this prayer on Saturdays, Ceste oraison se doit dire tous les samedis en honneur de la benoite vierge marie, incipit, “Missus Gabriel angelus…(sic)”.
f. 209rv, the prayer “De deprecor ergo”.
ff. 209v-210v, the Seven Joys of the Virgin.
ff. 211-214v, ruled but blank (quire xxvii).
Five full-page miniatures within Renaissance architectural borders; the opening words of the text are inscribed on a scroll placed between the scene and the frame:
f. 44, Annunciation to the Virgin. In each corner of the architectural border there is a charming putto playing with a vine drawn in red penwork. The conservative motif of the central column separating the protagonists in the miniature goes back to the Belles Heures du duc de Berry painted at the beginning of the fifteenth century by the Limbourg brothers.
f. 108, Crucifixion, with Mary and John. John is clad in red, green and grey violet, sharing the palette used for Gabriel in the Annunciation.
f. 112, Pentecost. The scene takes place in a church. The Virgin is placed centrally behind a small table and an open book, surrounded by the apostles, all facing the spectator, close to the picture plane. The apostles fix their eyes on the dove of the Holy Spirit, while Mary gazes pensively. The artist has individualized the faces of the youthful John at her left and Peter and Paul at her right.
f. 116, David and Bathsheba. David, leaning from a window in his castle in the foreground, points at Bathsheba seated in the distance next to a fountain under a cherry tree in the garden. She raises her dress and dips her leg in the water. The outline of a few noble houses and mountains peaks rise in the misty background.
f. 137, Job on the dunghill. A charming group of houses enlivens the landscape in the background and contrasts with the large cracks on the wall of Job’s house.
Five smaller miniatures:
f. 18, Virgin and Child (8 lines). The Virgin standing in a landscape and holding the Christ Child in her arms.
f. 21v, Pieta (8 lines). The Virgin supporting Christ’s body, depicted against blue and green hues of a suggested landscape.
f. 27, Betrayal of Christ (8 lines). This small miniature is coloristically centered Judas who is depicted in the foreground in the vibrant colors of a traitor: green robe and iridescent yellow cape. The image captures in one frozen moment the sequence of events: the kiss of Judas, the arrest of Christ by the soldiers who form a crowd of heads behind the protagonists, Peter cutting the ear of the soldier, his saber still in the air, the injured soldier slumped over a lantern, and the ear of the soldier in Christ’s outreached hand as he is about to heal him.
f. 100, Virgin and Child (8 lines). The Virgin sits with the Child on a rose-colored bench under a green canopy, against a black background, which is quite unusual. The composition with the Virgin facing forward and presenting the Christ Child sideways on her lap recalls the enthroned Virgin and Child painted by Jean Poyer of Tours in the so-called Hours of Henry VIII (the miniature now in the Louvre, Département des arts graphiques, R. F. 3890).
f. 185, the Mass of St. Gregory (11 lines). The scene is depicted within a small, carefully composed architectural border.
This unusual artist painted his figures with dark rings under their eyes. He offers unconventional details, has a rich palette and handles textures with ease. Mary’s hooded cloak at the Annunciation is especially well rendered. In the miniature of Job on the dunghill one can observe an interesting pentimento: the artist altered the hand gesture of the friend standing closest to Job. The artist’s work in camaïeu d’or is noteworthy, especially on the architectural borders and the four charming putti around the Annunciation, in different positions. They are quite similar to those painted by Jean Colombe and Jean de Montluçon in Bourges around 1490; compare, for instance, with Montluçon’s putti in Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, ms. 438, f. 74).
The artist is most likely localizable to either Bourges or Tours. The architectural frames, the decorated columns and the trompe-l’œil scrolls containing the incipits are similar to those painted by Jean Colombe and his followers in Bourges at the end of the fifteenth century. The grey violet color in the robes of several figures is common in the palette of Bourges and Tours artists around 1500. The composition of King David and Bathsheba also suggests Bourges. The young woman seated by the water lifting her brocaded dress to reveal her bare legs recalls the Bathsheba that Jean Colombe painted for Anne of France around 1473 (New York, Morgan Library and Museum, M. 677, f. 211). The way our artist changes perspective is interesting. David’s palace, for example, rises close to the picture plane and we see him observe Bathsheba in the distance, as from a theater balcony. By placing the seductive Bathsheba further in the garden, the artist implies a more secret and intimate bathing place surrounded by vegetation, and an invasion of her privacy by David and the viewer.
Avril, F. and N. Reynaud. Les manuscrits à peintures en France: 1440-1520, Paris, 1993.
Boudon-Machuel, M. and P. Charron. Art et société à Tours: au début de la Renaissance, Turnhout, 2016.
Chancel-Bardelot, B. de, et al. Tours 1500: capitale des arts, Paris, Tours, 2012.
Charron, P., M.-É Gautier, and P.-G. Girault. Trésors enluminés des Musées de France: Pays de la Loire et Centre, Angers, 2013.
Delaunay, I. “Livres d'heures de commande et d’étal: Quelques exemples choisis dans la librairie parisienne 1480–1500,” L'artiste et le commanditaire aux derniers siècles du Moyen Age (XIIIe-XVIe siècle), ed. F. Joubert, Paris, Cultures et civilisations médiévales, 24, 2001, pp. 249-270.
Elsig, F. Painting in France in the 15th century, Milan, 2004.
Elsig, F. Peindre en France à la Renaissance, I: Les courants stylistiques au temps de Louis XII et de François Ier, Milan, 2011.
Georgi, K. “La Bethsabée des Heures de Guyot Le Peley et le traitement du thème dans l'œuvre de Jean Colombe,” Art de l'enluminure 21 (2007), pp. 56-61.
Hindman, S. and A. Bergeron-Foote. France 1500: the Pictorial arts at the Dawn of the Renaissance, Paris, 2010.
Hofmann, M. Jean Poyer: Das Gesamtwerk, Turnhout, 2004.
Lalou, E., C. Rabel, and L. Holz, “Dedens mon livre de pensee”: de Grégoire de Tours à Charles d’Orleans: une histoire de livre médiéval en région Centre, Paris, 1997.
Olivier, E., Hermal, G., and de Roton, R. Manuel de l'amateur de reliures armoriées françaises, 30 vols, Paris, 1924-1935.
Plummer, J. The Last Flowering: French Painting in Manuscripts, 1420-1530 from American Collections, New York, 1982.
Taburet-Delahaye, E., Bresc-Bautier, G. and Crépin-Leblond, T. France 1500: entre Moyen Age et Renaissance, Paris, 2010.
Wolff, M., ed. Kings, Queens and Courtiers: Art in Early Renaissance France, Chicago, New Haven, and London, 2011.
J.-P. Fontaine, “Le Marquis d’Aubais, un des esprits les plus accomplis du XVIIIe siècle”: