This is a small gem of a manuscript by one of the most sought after illuminators active in the Southern Netherlands in the second quarter of the fifteenth century. The margins are relatively generous, the colors vivid and harmonious, and the faces of the figures and many charming details are delicately rendered. The present manuscript fits within the workshop’s mature production and has a twin in the Ambrosiana in Milan.
iii + 139 + iii, folios on parchment, complete, modern foliation in pencil, 1-139, (collation i12 ii8 [two leaves added, one after f. 12, another after f. 17] iii8 iv8 [one leaf added after f. 32] v8 [one leaf added after f. 46] vi8 vii8 [one leaf added after f. 62] viii8 [two leaves added, one after f. 68, another after f. 73] ix8 [two leaves added, one after f. 78, another after f. 83] x8 [one leaf added after f. 91] xi8 [one leaf added after f. 99] xii-xiii8 xiv8 [one leaf added after f. 120] xv8 xvi2 [one leaf added at the end], all added leaves are miniatures on singletons); written in brown ink in textualis (formata) bookhand on 12 lines (justification 50 x 37 mm), ruled in red ink, prickings in the outer margins (horizontal knife slits), 1-line initials alternating in gold or blue with pen-flourishing in black or red respectively, 2-line initials in gold on white-patterned blue and pink grounds, twelve 4-line white-patterned blue or red initials in-filled with ivy-leaves in blue, red and green, on gold grounds, twenty-four margins decorated with acanthus, flowers, fruit and gold-leaf spraywork (surrounding the miniatures and facing pages), TWELVE FULL-PAGE MINIATURES by the Masters of the Gold Scrolls; in occasional small areas paint has flaked off from miniatures, but in overall excellent condition. Bound in Paris c. 1860 by Pierre-Marcellin Lortic (1822-1892) (binder’s label on f. i verso) in red morocco, with a central design on the front and rear covers blind-tooled with geometric and floral motifs, inside three gold-tooled double-fillet frames decorated with stylized fleurs-de-lys; the inner boards are covered in dark blue morocco gold-tooled with dentelle borders; spine has five raised bands gold-tooled with fleurons and double fillets, the second panel is lettered in gilt: HORAE / AD USUM / ROMANUM, the third: M. S.; edges gilt, blue silk flyleaves, red cardboard case lined with suede. Dimensions 97 x 65 mm.
1. The manuscript was painted in the late 1430s by one of the Gold Scrolls Masters, probably in Bruges. These artists worked essentially in Bruges, but as the style gained popularity, it was not restricted to Bruges. The calendar includes the saints Basil and Donatian, specific to Bruges, but also other local saints venerated in the Southern Netherlands and the Northern France.
2. In the nineteenth century, c. 1860, Pierre-Marcellin Lortic of Paris rebound the manuscript for an unidentified owner.
3. Private European Collection.
ff. 1-12v, Calendar, with the local saints Amand of Maastricht and Vaast of Arras, in red (6 Feb), Gertrude of Nivelles in Walloon Brabant (17 Mar), Walric, founder of the abbey Saint-Valéry-sur-Somme in the diocese of Amiens (1 Apr), Basil, in red (14 Jun; the Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges is dedicated to St Basil), Bavo of Ghent, in red (1 Oct), Donatian of Reims, in red (14 Oct; the cathedral of Bruges is dedicated to St Donatian), and the translation and feast of Eligius, bishop of Noyon-Tournai, in red (25 Jun, transl., 1 Dec, feast).
f. 13, blank.
ff. 13v-17v, Short Hours of the Cross.
f. 18, blank.
ff. 18v-32v, the Mass of the Virgin, Missa de domina nostra, followed by the Gospel Sequences.
f. 33, blank.
ff. 33v-98v, Hours of the Virgin, use of Rome, Incipiunt hore beate Marie Virginis secundum consuetudinem romane ecclesie. ff. 33v-46v Matins, f. 47 blank, ff. 47v-62v Lauds, f. 63 blank, ff. 63v-68v Prime, f. 69 blank, ff. 69v-73v Terce, f. 74 blank, ff. 74v-78v Sexte, f. 79 blank, ff. 79v-83v None, f. 84 blank, ff. 84v-91v Vespers, f. 92 blank, ff. 92v-98v Compline.
f. 99rv, blank, ruled.
ff. 100-115v, Seven Penitential Psalms.
ff. 115v-120v, Litany. No local saints.
f. 121, blank.
ff. 121v-139v, Office of the Dead. The text includes only the first three responses, “Credo quod,” “Qui Lazarum,” and “Domine, quando veneris.”
Twelve full-page miniatures by the Masters of the Gold Scrolls, framed by a simple gold band; margins decorated with acanthus (in green, blue, red and pink), flowers, fruit and gold-leaf spraywork (including strawberries, thistles, and carrot flowers):
f. 13v, Crucifixion. The Virgin turns her head away from the Cross, hands folded, while St John holds a red book and looks up at Christ. A skull lies at the foot of the Cross, the background is red with gold scrollwork. The folds on John’s cloak are delicately rendered in brown tones.
f. 18v, Virgin and Child. The crowned Virgin is seated on a large red cushion with tassels and beads at the corners. The Christ Child holds a small red fruit (a cherry?) taken from the basket held by an angel. The scene evokes the hortus conclusus. The motifs of the grass bench behind the Virgin, the tasseled cushion, and the band of blue sky above a patterned background, derive from compositions common in the second decade of the fifteenth century. A comparison can be made, for instance, with the Virgin and Child in the Busseul Hours painted in Ghent before 1419 (Brussels, KBR, ms. IV, 179, f. 126; see Vanwijnsberghe, fig. 6.1). The motif of the angel offering cherries to the Christ Child is very common in manuscripts in the Gold Scrolls Masters group and originates in Paris, where it was most probably invented by the Boucicaut Master (Bousmanne 1989, p. 260, n. 48).
f. 33v, Annunciation to the Virgin. The Virgin is kneeling on a tasseled gold cushion next to a small altar surmounted by a canopy of green velvet and pink brocaded tissue. She turns toward the kneeling angel Gabriel who greets her with the words “Ave gratia plena dominus tecum” written on the air-borne scroll. God the Father sends the dove of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35, “the Holy Spirit will come upon you”). A gold vase between the protagonists contains two lilies, one in bud, the other in flower.
f. 47v, Visitation. Mary and Elizabeth greet in the foreground, in front of a stylized landscape with a distant town rising beyond three hills dotted with trees that look like small clouds on rows of matchsticks. The tree in the foreground with its yellow flowers is a signature motif of the artist.
f. 63v, Nativity of Christ. The scene takes place outside the stable, which is a simple shelter with a wattle wall and fencing. The roof is poetically graded from green to white. The Christ Child lies on the ground and God the Father sends the Holy Spirit on rays of light.
f. 69v, Annunciation to the Shepherds. An angel, holding a scroll inscribed with the words “Gloria in excelsis deo,” appears in the sky to two shepherds, one young and the other old. They both hold a shepherd’s spade, used for digging clods of earth that were thrown at errant sheep.
f. 74v, Adoration of the Magi. The three kings symbolize the three ages of man. The two younger kings wear impressively large crowns.
f. 79v, Presentation in the Temple. Simeon extends his veiled hands to receive the nude Christ Child presented by Mary. Joseph and a handmaiden each hold a lit taper and a turtledove. A town is seen through the large open window. The altar, covered with two white altar cloths, is lined with a rose-colored fabric decorated with small circles in a lighter tone, each with a point in its center. It is a decorative element used systematically in clothes, fabrics and furniture painted by the Gold Scrolls Masters, originally deriving from the Boucicaut Master (see Bousmanne 1989, p. 259).
f. 84v, Massacre of the Innocents. A soldier grasps a baby by the hair, raises his sword and looks at Herod, seated at the right. The baby in white swaddling clothes, cross-banded in red, has rosy cheeks and anxious eyes fixed on his mother. The kneeling mother, grasping her child, looks apprehensively at the sword about to strike.
f. 92v, Flight into Egypt. Joseph turns to look at Mary and the swaddled Christ Child mounted on a donkey, as they travel on a road before a mountainous landscape. A lonely windmill on a hilltop and some church towers peaking behind the mountain range are the only signs of habitation.
f. 100v, Last Judgment. Christ displaying his wounds sits on a gold arc with his feet resting on a T-globe. He is flanked by blue angels blowing trumpets. Mary and John kneel below, and grey heads of five souls rise from openings in the earth. This composition is very common in manuscripts of the group, although here the rainbow is not yet supported by the inventive clouds, as found in Books of Hours from the 1440s, for instance, The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Ms. 76 F 25, f. 97r, and Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, W.246, f. 88v.
f. 121v, Office of the Dead. A large bier covered with a blue cloth is placed before the altar in a chapel with four arched windows rendered in silver. The altar is lined with green fabric decorated with the signature dotted circle design. Two mourners are in the foreground and three clerics, clad in green, grey and red, chant from a large gradual on a lectern. Four lit tapers are placed around the bier on tall decorative candlesticks. The two in the foreground make a striking contrast against the deep blue cloth.
Friedrich Winkler first identified the Gold Scrolls Master in 1925. Later it was recognized that many hands worked in this style and the name was changed to the Gold Scroll Masters. By 2016, Gregory Clark had identified 140 manuscripts, mainly Books of Hours, in the style of the Gold Scrolls Masters, illustrating their immense popularity in the second quarter of the fifteenth century in the Southern Netherlands (see Clark). The group of illuminators and the style derive their name from the sumptuous backgrounds, often colored in red, that are filled with delicate gold scrolls. The activity of the group of artists stretches from the 1420s to the early 1450s, and it is thought by some that Willem Vrelant takes over the atelier when he arrives in Bruges from Utrecht in the 1450s.
The iconography and style of our manuscript suggest a dating in the late 1430s. Following Gregory Clark’s method of dating manuscripts in this group by the appearance of the sky and landscape formations, a date before 1440 for our manuscript seems likely. The landscapes suggest distance, rendered with hills in the middle ground and townscapes on the horizon. All the elements – mountains, trees, buildings – remain rather stylized, mechanically executed, and show little variation in size or form. Notably, there is neither atmospheric haze, nor clouds in the sky, but all scenes appear to be nocturnal, which supports a relatively early dating of the manuscript.
The present manuscript is a very fine example from the Gold Scrolls Masters group. The artist suggested different textures with ease, painted the minute facial features with a delicate touch and used a varied palette with alternating deep and pastel tones, which he arranged harmoniously in his compositions. The artist is the same member of the Gold Scrolls group who painted a Book of Hours in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan (ms. S.P. 12; see Bousmanne 1989). The original owner of our manuscript probably belonged to the nobility or bourgeoisie in the entourage of the ducal court of Philip the Good (r. 1419-1467), which resided alternatively in Brussels, Bruges, Lille, Hesdin and Dijon.
Beuken, W. A. and J. H. Marrow. Spiegel van den leven ons Heren, Doornspijk, 1979, pp. 90-91.
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Bousmanne, B. “Remarques sur la décoration marginale d’un livre d’heures de la Bibliothèque Abrosienne (Milan, Bibliothèque Ambrosienne, ms. S.P. 12),” Aevum 63:2 (1989), pp. 252-264.
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Clark, G. “Mass production: The Masters of the Gold Scrolls,” Splendour of the Burgundian Netherlands, A.M.W. As-Vijvers and A.S. Korteweg, (eds), Utrecht, Zwolle, The Hague, 2018, pp. 96-109.
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Dogaer, G. Flemish Miniature Painting in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, Amsterdam, 1987, pp. 27-31.
Hans-Collas, I. “Les Maîtres aux rinceaux d’or,” Miniature flamandes, 1404-1482, Bousmanne, B. and Delcourt, T. (eds), Paris, Brussels, 2011, pp. 140-147.
Vanwijnsberghe, D. and E. Verroken. “A l’Escu de France”: Guillebert de Mets et la peinture de livres à Gand à l’époque de Jan van Eyck (1410-1450), Turnhout, 2018.
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“Portrait de relieur: Pierre-Marcellin Lortic (1822-1892)”:
“Maîtres aux rinceaux d’or” on Wikipedia: