A wood box with leather, the domed cover reinforced with 9 iron fittings, hinges, and a lock (the latch broken), the sides with loops, the interior unlined (152 x 215 x 116 mm.) and with the lock mechanism exposed. On the exterior, the right side is marked in white “N. 12. / yc” and “37bg.”, the inside marked “N. 90” and “N. 90 io”. The leather on the exterior with some worming and with some losses on both sides of the lid. This box does not preserve its horsehair cushion.

Woodcut, Sacred Monogram (approximately 165 x 143 mm.), with stencil-applied orange-red and blue-green colors. This print is recorded in Schreiber and Field and in Jammes (no. 23). An impression that survives outside a coffret is in the National Gallery of Art (Schreiber, no. 1821, State I/II). Beyond Jammes, this print also appears in a coffret with a flat cover in a catalogue published by Joseph Baer in 1921 (cat. 675, no. 259) and in a coffret, also with a flat cover, sold by Piasa at Drouot in May 2008 (lot 35). The present example is trimmed to fit a relatively small lid, with part of the border on the left trimmed and pasted to the side. The print has some losses consistent with age and use.

The most recent study of this image (Lepape, 2019, pp. 59-60) relates it to a small group of other prints inspired by the work of Jean d’Ypres, but not by him.  Lepape identifies 13 impressions of this print, making it one of the most widely diffused.  The artist, undoubtedly Parisian and active in the first half of the sixteenth century, borrowed heavily from the Crucifixion by Jean d’Ypres, and his decorative motifs are found also in the Virgin of the Rosary.

Produced in Paris, this Coffer and its print shows the symbolic importance of the name of Christ and the instruments of Christ’s passion in popular devotion. The coloring of these prints in orange-red, also called purple by Thomas Primeau in the case of the National Gallery impression, further enhanced the meanings associated with the story of Christ.

Approximately 140 Gothic Coffers and fugitive prints survive (around 110 Coffers and 30 prints), most in European museums.  A few preserve their secret compartments or their horsehair cushions, evidence that they once contained objects and were carried as backpacks.  All include rare hand-colored prints, some unique, others surviving in only a few impressions.  Most of the prints are related to the Parisian workshop of the Master of the Très Petites Heures of Anne de Bretagne (now identified as the artist Jean d’Ypres).  Any study of the origins of French print-making must take into account these Coffers and their remarkable prints.  The body of material is exceptional, for the viewing context helps explain the function of the prints. Further investigation of these practical, accessible, and intriguing objects promises new insights into the relationship between devotional imagery and visual culture in Early Modern France.

A sale in 2007 of twenty-two Gothic Coffers – the largest single collection formed by André and Marie-Thérèse Jammes – prompted renewed interest in these art works and resulted in a flurry of new studies.  Significant among these are investigations by Severine Lepape and Michel Huynh on the typology of the coffers, the identity and attribution of the prints (including a yet-unpublished census), and the union of print and coffer.  The recent discovery of a Northern Renaissance painting of the Rest on the Flight, published by Sandra Hindman, prompts a reconsideration of the Coffers with prints as traveling boxes.  Painted in Antwerp c. 1530 by an artist working in the tradition of Joachim Patinir, the painting includes a detail of a large, partially opened box.  A small leather-bound book with clasps, a rosary composed of precious gems, a brush, scissors, and two finger-rings all nest on a bunch of diaphanous white cloth inside the box.  This detail survives as the only known contemporary depiction of these Gothic Coffers.

Selected literature:

Field, Richard S. Fifteenth Century Woodcuts and Metalcuts from the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. [exhibition catalogue], Washington D.C., 1965.

Hindman, Sandra. “Gothic Traveling Coffers Revisited,” in Le Livre, La Photographie, L’Image & La Lettre.  Essays in Honor of André Jammes, ed. Sandra Hindman, Isabelle Jammes, Bruno Jammes and Hans P. Kraus Jr, pp. 312-327, Paris, 2015.

Huyhn, Michel and Severine Lepape. “De la rencontre d’une image et d’une boite:  les coffrets à estampe,” La Revue des musées de France, no. 4 (2011), pp. 37-50.

Jammes: Coffrets –  Pierre Bergé & Associes, Vente Collection Marie-Thérèse et Andre Jammes, Coffrets de Messagers, Images du Moyen Age et Traditions Populaires, Paris, Drouot Richelieu, 7 Novembre 2007.

Joseph Baer & Co., Catalogue 675, Codices manu scripti saeculorum IX. ad XIX.: incunabula xylographica et typographica, Frankfurt, 1921.

Lepape, Severine.  “Du nationalism au surréalism: une petite histoire de coffrets,” Bulletin du bibliophile, no. 1 (2012), pp. 11-23.

Lepape, Severine.  “When Assemblage Makes Sense:  An Example of a Coffret à Estampe,” Art in Print, 2, no. 4 (2012): 9-14.

Lepape, Severine.  Lepape, Severine, et al.   Mystérieux coffrets: Estampes au temps de La Dame à la licorne (exhibition catalogue), Paris, Musee du Cluny, 2019.

Parshall, Peter W, Rainer Schoch, David S. Areford, Richard S. Field, and Peter Schmidt.  Origins of European Printmaking, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art in association with Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 2005.

Primeau, Thomas. “Coloring Within the Lines: The Use of Stencil in Early Woodcuts,” Art in Print, 3, no. 3 (2013): 11-16.

Schreiber, W. L.  Handbuch der Holz- und Metallschnitte des XV. Jahrhunderts, 12 vols., Leipzig, 1926-1930.

Souchal, G. “Un grand peintre français de la fin du XVe siècle:  le Maître de la Chasse à la licorne,” Revue de l’Art 22 (1973), pp. 22-86.

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