This ravishing Book of Hours is decorated on nearly every page with striking variety and luxuriant color by an illuminator whose career has not yet been adequately charted. The miniatures display expert handling of paint and liquid gold, and the subjects are often unusual or creatively treated. The artist was familiar with Parisian illumination (the Master of Cardinal Bourbon, the Master of Robert Gauguin) but also that of Bourges (Jean Colombe). In the beginning of the seventeenth century the manuscript belonged to Constanzo Litolfi Maroni, a nobleman from Mantua, who served as a squire and later maître d’hôtel to three subsequent kings of France.
iii + 71 + ii, folios on parchment, lacking 3 leaves (before f. 1 and after ff. 20 and 41), sixteenth-century foliation in black ink, 1-65 (begins after the calendar), written in brown ink in cursive bookhand (“lettre bâtarde”) on 28 lines (justification 65 mm), ruled in purple ink, 1-2-line initials in gold on grounds alternating in burgundy and brown throughout, similar line-endings, outer margins decorated with floral borders on all pages, many include birds, animals and imaginative grotesques, 5-line foliate, ribbon or interlace initials begin major texts, twenty-seven small miniatures, with gemstone and floral borders, thirteen full-page miniatures, with architectural or gemstone borders, and full floral borders; minor smudges, otherwise in excellent condition. Bound c. 1550 in Paris (similar to the work of Gomar Estienne) in brown calf gold-tooled with an interlacing strapwork design filled in red and black, surrounded by a gilt foliage frame, edges gilt. Dimensions 165 x 116 mm.
1. The text reveals that the manuscript was made for use in Paris. The Hours of the Virgin follow the use of Paris, but this alone cannot be taken as conclusive evidence because the use of Paris was popular throughout late medieval France. The composite calendar has a saint or feast inscribed on each day of the year, alternating in red and blue, with grading applied only for the most important feast days inscribed in gold. Among the saints in red or blue, when more than one feast was possible for a date, the Parisian one was usually chosen, as in the case of St. Venantius Fortunatus (the author of the life of St. Germain of Paris), whose feast in Paris was celebrated on 5 May (cf. Clark, pp. 223-224). Overall, the calendar in this manuscript is close to the Parisian calendar published by Paul Perdrizet in 1933. The saints in gold are: Genevieve (3 Jan), Vincent (22 Jan), Paul (25 Jan), Peter (22 Feb), Mathias (24 Feb), Mark (25 Apr), John (6 May), Nicholas (9 May), Barnabas (11 Jun), John the Baptiste (24 Jun), Eligius (25 Jun), Peter (29 Jun), Martin (4 Jul), Mary Magdalene (22 Jul), James and Christopher (25 Jul), Anne (28 Jul), Peter (1 Aug), Stephen (3 Aug), Lawrence (10 Aug), Bartholomew (24 Aug), Louis (25 Aug), John (29 Aug), Lupus and Gilles (1 Sep), Matthew (21 Sep), Michael (29 Sep), Denis (9 Oct), Luke (18 Oct), Simon and Jude (28 Oct), Martin (11 Nov), Clement (23 Nov), Catherine (25 Nov), Andrew (30 Nov), Nicholas (6 Dec), Thomas (21 Dec), Stephen (26 Dec), John (27 Dec), and Thomas (29 Dec). The inclusion of St. Genevieve of Paris in gold is not helpful on its own, because this Parisian saint was venerated throughout France. However, the inclusion of the translation of St. Eligius in gold on 25 June is highly important (his ordinary feast on 1 December did not receive gold). The arm relic of Eligius was translated from Noyon to Notre-Dame de Paris in 1212, and several corporations under the patronage of St. Eligius in Paris celebrated the feast of the translation on 25 June (see Perdrizet, pp. 161-162). These included goldsmiths, bladesmiths, locksmiths, as well as those who worked with horses. Perhaps the manuscript was made for a squire.
2. In the beginning of the seventeenth century (if not earlier), the manuscript belonged to Constanzo Litolfi Maroni, a nobleman issued from the family of the Marquis of Suzarre in Mantua. His arms are painted on the recto of the first front flyleaf, headed by the title “Les Armeries de la maison de Litolfy Marony,” and again on the verso of the last end flyleaf. An ownership inscription reads on the first end flyleaf: “Cestes presents heures appartiennent à Constance Litolfy de Marony.” The duke of Mantua sent Litolfi with an army to France, to serve the French king, Henri III (r. 1574-1589). He became the king’s squire (écuyer du roi) in the “Little Stable” (petite écurie), which comprised of the horses that the king used personally. Litolfi subsequently served in the households of the king Henri IV (r. 1589-1610) and the dauphin Louis, and then as he became king Louis XIII (r. 1610-1643) until 1613. After his service as écuyer, Henri IV made him his maître d’hôtel ordinaire, and under Louis he became premier maître d’hôtel. He was naturalized in September 1600 (see Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Fr. 33047, p. 487), and in 1602 married Nicole de Valles, the daughter of René de Valles, lord of Boisnormand, and received the governance of the towns of Conches and Breteuil in Normandy.
On the verso of the first front flyleaf of this manuscript Litolfi had transcribed, in large humanistic script and headed by a fine ornamental initial in gold, the dates and places of births of the first four children of his king, Henri IV: the dauphin Louis, Elizabeth of France, Christine of France and Nicholas, known as Monseigneur d’Orléans. On the facing page were transcribed the births of Henri and Gabrielle, the children of Charles du Plessis, the Premier Écuyer de France in charge of the Little Stable, who was Litolfy’s superior. At the end of the book, on the recto of the last end flyleaf, Litolfy had transcribed the births of his own children, the eldest, Henri (later bishop of Bazas), and the twins, François and Roger. These texts were probably added between April 1607 and April 1608, after the birth of Monseigneur d’Orléans, the latest included date, and before the birth of Gaston d’Orléans, the king’s fifth child who is not mentioned.
How did Litolfy, squire of Henri IV, acquire the book, which may originally have been made for a squire, perhaps for one serving King Louis XII? Was it passed down the de Valles family, a noble family that included generations of écuyers (among whom around 1490 the squire Philippe de Valles)?
ff. 1-6v, Calendar, in French, see above “Provenance”
f. 7, blank.
ff. 8-10v, Gospel Lessons.
ff. 11-12v, Obsecro te, for masculine use.
ff. 13-14, O intemerata.
f. 14v, blank.
ff. 15-16v, Passion according to St John.
ff. 16v-19v, antiphons for Advent, “Spiritus Sanctus in te descendet, Maria” (f. 16v), Christmas, “Hodie Christus natus est” (f. 17), Easter time, “Traditor eius signum eis dicens” (on the Passion, f. 17), “Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi” (on the Cross, f. 17v), “Regina celi, letare, alleluia” (at the Resurrection, f. 18), the Ascension, “O Rex glorie, Domine virtutum” (f. 18v), for when entering a cemetery, “Avete omnes anime fideles” (f. 19), and to celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, “Ave, cuius Conceptio, Solemni plena gaudio” (f. 20).
ff. 22-44, Hours of the Virgin, use of Paris. Lacking the beginning of Vespers and its miniature (one leaf after f. 41).
f. 44v, blank.
ff. 45-46v, Short Hours of the Cross.
ff. 47-48v, Short Hours of the Holy Spirit.
ff. 49-55, Seven Penitential psalms.
ff. 55-56v, Litany, no local saints.
ff. 57-64, Office of the Dead, including Vespers, Matins with the first nocturn (but lacking the second and third nocturns), and Lauds. The use is altered from that of Paris in such a manner that the Responses for first and second lessons are interchanged (the scribe also inversed the rubrics for the Versicle and Response that follow the first two lessons). The two responses following the third lesson are those that G. Clark has recorded for the ninth lesson in the use of Paris (see Literature).
f. 64v, blank.
ff. 65-70v, Suffrages of the Saints: Holy Trinity, Michael, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, Peter and Paul, James, Stephen, Sebastian, Christopher, Nicholas, Anthony, Mary Magdalene, Catherine, Anne.
f. 71, ruled but blank.
Thirteen full-page miniatures:
f. 13, Lamentation
f. 15, Flagellation
f. 22, Annunciation to the Virgin
f. 27v, Visitation, accompanied by two angels
f. 33, Nativity
f. 36, Annunciation to the Shepherds
f. 38, Adoration of the Magi
f. 40, Presentation at the Temple
f. 42v, Coronation of the Virgin
f. 45, Crucifixion
f. 47, Pentecost
f. 49, David and Bathsheba
f. 57, Raising of Lazarus
Twenty-seven small miniatures:
f. 8, St. John writing the Apocalypse on Patmos with his eagle
f. 8v, St. Luke with his ox
f. 9v, St. Matthew with an angel
f. 10, St. Mark with his lion
f. 11, Virgin and Child surrounded by angels
f. 16v, Annunciation to the Virgin
f. 17, Nativity
f. 17, Carrying of the Cross
f. 17v, Christ holding the Cross
f. 18, Resurrection
f. 18v, Ascension
f. 19, Ecclesia and Synagogue
f. 20, Immaculate Conception of Mary in the womb of St. Anne, who is standing surrounded by King David, of whose house and line she descended, and three other men
f. 65, Throne of Mercy
f. 65, St. Michael playing viola da braccio
f. 65v, St. John the Baptist with Lamb on an open book
f. 66, St. John the Evangelist with the chalice
f. 66, St. Peter and St. Paul, with a key and a sword
f. 66v, St. James as pilgrim
f. 67, St. Stephen with stones on his head
f. 67, St. Sebastian, shot with arrows
f. 68, St. Christopher carrying the Christ Child, against a seascape
f. 68v, St. Nicholas with three youths in a tub
f. 69, St. Anthony with the pig
f. 69v, St. Mary Magdalene with ointment jar
f. 70, St. Catherine with sword, open book and broken wheel
f. 70v, St. Anne teaching Mary to read
The talented artist of this manuscript appears to have escaped scholarship on French illumination. He painted his figures with small, round eyes, and noses that are short and triangular when seen in profile, or long, modeled with gray vertical shadow strokes when seen in three-quarters or frontally. He used liquid gold generously to highlight, model and decorate, and handled it exquisitely when drawing final details, such as the effortlessly squiggled strands of Bathsheba’s long curls. The halos of his figures are often outlined with a chain of tiny white beads. The small miniatures, as well as the large Adoration of the Magi, with figures outlined in black, stronger, more angular folds on garments, and flatter backgrounds, could be by an assistant.
In addition to the more typical miniatures, the book has rich extended cycles of small images. The Suffrages include a charming St. Michael playing viola da braccio. The miniature illustrating the prayer “Avete omnes anime fideles,” said when entering a cemetery, depicts the subject of Ecclesia and Synagogue, except that the personification of Ecclesia is not holding her usual attribute of a Cross, but something that appears to be a sponge attached to a lance.
The full-page Flagellation miniature stands out. The guards are flogging Christ with such energy that their bodies extend out of the frame. Meanwhile, the Pentecost is calm and affective with the individualized close-up faces of the Apostles, and its composition is especially interesting as it places Peter in the forefront of the image, while the Virgin, although in the center of the group, is left standing behind him. The choir of angels witnessing the Annunciation derives from compositions by Jean Colombe of Bourges. The composition of David and Bathsheba is very similar to the same subject painted by Jean de Montluçon of Bourges for the Bollioud family of Forez (Lyon, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 5141). In both, the overtly seductive Bathsheba stands close to the viewer with her pronounced stomach and broad hips, wearing nothing but a gold necklace and a sheer veil. The Raising of Lazarus is based on the same model as that used for the Lazarus miniature painted in Rouen by the Master of Raoul de Fou (Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, ms. 431), both perhaps originating in Parisian printed sources. In each manuscript, the event is placed inside, here in a cloister, in the Rouen manuscript inside a church. Whereas, the composition and the physiognomies of the protagonists in the Coronation of the Virgin are comparable to miniatures by the Master of the Cardinal de Bourbon active in Paris.
In addition to the miniatures, every page of the book has one or more of its margins ornamented with borders that combine motifs, different each time, reflecting the rich decorative options in vogue at the time. The colored marble columns and the floral tapestry scrolls winding around colored tree trunks were initially developed by Bourges illuminators. By 1500 they had spread to Tours, Paris, and beyond. Contemporaries who painted similar frames with embedded gemstones and pearls include, among others, Georges Trubert, working at the ducal court in Nancy (see Waddesdon Manor, ms. 21; Trubert is also comparable to the artist of this book by his exuberant use of color), and the Master of Walters 457, active in Lyon (Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, W.457). The floral borders on dark grounds with blue and ochre acanthus, inhabited by animals and grotesques, are similar to those by Parisian artists, such as the Master of Robert Gauguin (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Lat. 4994). Finally, the initial beginning the Hours of the Virgin, composed of two conjoined green dragons is very similar to that painted by the Master of Spencer 6 of Bourges in a diplomatic gift commissioned by Claude de Seyssel for Henry VII of England in 1506 (British Library, Royal 19 C VI).
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Blog post by Jean-Luc Deuffic about this book of hours: