This fascinating Book of Hours bears witness to the rise of innovative artists in Bourges in the wake of Jean Colombe (c. 1430-1493), a few years after he was entrusted to complete the Très Riches Heures of Jean de Berry. The four full-page miniatures are by the Master of Jean de Ferrières, a rare artist who enjoyed success at the Bourbon court in Moulins, and whose career certainly deserves further study. Enshrined within golden frames that simulate the metalwork of devotional altarpieces, these four miniatures demonstrate an intimate understanding and singular interpretation of Jean Colombe’s prolific production. An inscription, added shortly after the completion of the manuscript by a son named “Du Breul,” suggests that the patron could have belonged to the influential Du Breuil family of Bourges. Hypothetically, the first owner may be identified with Jeanne Toustain (1450-1494), first wife of Pierre III Du Breuil (1425-1500), a lawyer and counselor to the King of France who became the mayor of Bourges in 1500.

ii (modern paper) + 166 folios + i (modern paper), folios on parchment, modern foliation in pencil, lacking 2 leaves (after f. 96 [likely with miniature], after f. 122 [likely with miniature]), otherwise complete, mostly in gatherings of eight (i4, ii6, iii-iv8, v8+2, vi-viii8, ix-x6+1, xi-xii8, xiii6, xiv8-1, xv-xvi8, xvii2+1, xviii6-1, xix-xxiii8), written in dark brown ink in a cursive gothic bookhand, on 15 lines (justification 84 x 53 mm), rubrics in red, 1- and 2- lines initial in gold on red or blue grounds, in-filled with gold leaves and flower throughout, 4 full-page miniatures with architectural frames or frames embellished with jewels and pearls, inscribed with the incipit of the prayer in gold (trimming to the top), slight dampstaining to some opening pages, but with no damage to the text, faces of the miniature on f. 1 quite worn, slight stains on the frame of the miniature on f. 103, otherwise in good condition. Bound in 18th-century brown sheepskin over pasteboard, spine with four raised bands, edges marbled, corners worn, otherwise in good condition. Dimensions 135 x 90 mm.


1.Stylistic evidence indicates that the present manuscript was illuminated in Bourges, probably in the 1490s. The textual features of the manuscript confirm this location. Although the Hours of the Virgin and the Office of the Dead both follow the universal use of Rome, the calendar includes local feasts that are related to the city of Bourges and its surroundings, as far as Nevers and Limoges. These are St. Sulpitius of Bourges (17 Jan), St. Silvanus of Levroux of Bourges (22 Sept), St. Eusemie of Nevers (7 Apr), St. Sotheris of Nevers (22 Apr), St. Martial of Limoges (7 July), St. Leonard of Limoges (6 Nov) and St. Valerie of Limoges (9 Dec). The female form of the Obsecro te suggests that a woman commissioned the manuscript. Hypothetically, she may be identified with Jeanne Toustain (1450-1494), first wife of Pierre III Du Breuil (see below).

2. An inscription was added on f. 163v in the early sixteenth century shortly after the completion of the Book of Hours. It reads: “Vostre tresobeissant et meilleur filz a jamais: Du Breul” [Your most obedient and best son forever: Du Breul]. If one assumes that the inscription was meant for the first owner of the manuscript, probably a woman according to the female form of the Obsecro te, it is likely that she would have bequeathed it to his son, who in turn would have written this token of love on the last folio of the manuscript as an ex-libris. It follows that the man who wrote this note must have had a father named Du Breul, and brothers to compete with both in obedience and goodness.

The name “Du Breul,” often written “Du Breuil,” is quite common in fifteenth and sixteenth century France, both as a family name and a place name. Since the manuscript was illuminated in Bourges (see below), the author of the inscription may have belonged to the Du Breuil family of Bourges. This influential family provided the cathedral St. Stephen with many canons, the King of France with counselors and lawyers, and the city with aldermen (see Voisin et al. 2012).

Jean II Du Breuil (1406-1468) is one of the most important figures of the family. A counselor of the Paris Parliament in 1436, he became a canon of the Paris cathedral, archdeacon of Bourges and a canon of Saint-Ursin of Bourges (see Voisin et al. 2012, pp. 8-11). In 1450, he translated the relics of St. Symphorien into the church St. Ursin of Bourges. In 1466, he founded the chapel St. John the Baptist in the cathedral St. Stephen of Bourges, where the most remarkable fifteenth-century ensemble of monumental painting still extant in Bourges was discovered in 1993 (see Ribault and Aurat 1994; Reynaud 1996). On the eastern wall of the chapel, the archdeacon is depicted alongside Martin Du Breuil (d. 1480), his brother and executor of his will, himself a canon of the cathedral. They kneel in prayer before the Noli me tangere, when the Resurrected Christ appears to Mary Magdalen (fig. 1). On the opposite wall of the chapel is a Crucifixion, set before a sumptuous coastal landscape. In the stained-glass window of the chapel, St. John the Baptist introduces the two brothers to the Adoration of the Magi. The superb mural and stained glass paintings of this chapel witness the Du Breuil family’s brilliant patronage of the arts and public position in late fifteenth-century Bourges.

The author of the inscription on f. 163v may be identified with a son of Pierre III Du Breuil (1425-1500), Jean and Martin’s nephew as the son to Nicolas I Du Breuil (1407-1480) and Marie Chambellan (see Voisin et al. 2012, pp. 14-20). Pierre III Du Breuil was a lawyer and counselor to the King of France, who became the mayor of Bourges in 1500 and died only a few months later. Around 1470, he married Jeanne Toustain (1450-1494), native of Tours. She bore three sons: Nicolas II (1483-1530), a lawman, counselor to the King, and alderman of Bourges in 1524 and 1525; Antoine (d. 1541), a lawman, prior of St. Ursin of Bourges and a canon of the cathedrals of Bourges and Paris; and Jacques II (d. 1543), a canon of Bourges and archdeacon of Bourbon, almost elected archbishop of Bourges in 1525, who commissioned a life-size sculpted Entombment for the crypt of the Bourges Cathedral before his death. Soon after the death of Jeanne Toustain in 1494, Pierre III Du Breuil remarried Marie Sardé (d. 1532), who gave him two daughters and only one son before his death in 1500: Guillaume V (d. 1557).

Assuming that the author of the inscription was indeed part of the Du Breuil family of Bourges, he could then be identified with either Antoine, Nicolas II, or Jacques Du Breuil. Nicolas II appears as the best candidate, since a book of hours would have been certainly more suited to the needs of a layman than a prelate. Interestingly, St. Nicholas is also one of the only three saints commemorated in the Suffrages (f. 162-162v), along with St. Sebastian and St. Barbara whose choice is more usual. Hypothetically, the first owner and patron of the manuscript may thus be identified with Jeanne Toustain (1450-1494), first wife of Pierre III Du Breuil (1425-1500), and the second owner with their son and heir Nicolas II Du Breuil (1483-1530).

3. An ensemble of marial prayers in French and Latin was added in a sixteenth-century hand on the last quire of the manuscript, originally left blank (f. 164-166v). This addition probably follows the inscription on f. 163v by a short period of time.


ff. 1-4v, Hours of the Holy Spirit; [ff. 5-6v, ruled, otherwise blank];

ff. 7-18v, Calendar, in French, important feasts in red, with local feasts of Bourges, St. Sulpitius (17 Jan), St. Silvanus of Levroux (22 Sept); Nevers, St. Eusemie (7 Apr), St. Sotheris (22 Apr); and Limoges, St. Martial (7 July), St. Leonard (6 Nov), St. Valerie (9 Dec).

ff. 19-25v, Gospels extracts; [ff. 26-26v, ruled, otherwise blank];

ff. 27-31v, Obsecro te (female form);

ff. 31v-36v, O Intemerata;

ff. 37-96v, Hours of the Virgin (use of Rome), with Matins, ff. 37-59v, Lauds, ff. 59v-72v, Prime, ff. 72v-77, Terce, ff. 77-80v, Sext, ff. 81-84, None, ff. 84-87v, Vespers, ff. 87v-93v, Compline, ff. 93v-96v;

ff. 97-102v, Hours of the Cross (beginning imperfectly);

ff. 103-116v, Penitential Psalms;

ff. 116v-122, Litanies and prayers; [f. 122v, blank];

ff. 123-160v, Office of the Dead (use of Rome, beginning imperfectly);

ff. 161-163v, Suffrages, St. Sebastian, ff. 161-162, St. Nicholas, ff. 162-162v, St. Barbara, f. 162v-163v.

ff. 164-166v, later addition, Prayers to our Lady, in Latin and French, incipit “Inviolata, integra et casta es Maria”.


Four full-page miniatures:

f. 1, Pentecost;

f. 27, Pietà;

f. 37, Annunciation;

f. 103, David penitent.

The four full-page miniatures of the Du Breuil Hours can be ascribed to an anonymous artist active in the circle of the well-known artist Jean Colombe (c. 1430-1493). Native of Bourges, youngest brother to the famous sculptor Michel Colombe, Jean Colombe oversaw one of the most successful illumination workshops in fifteenth-century France (for an overview, see Jacob 2013). He may have trained with Jean Fouquet, whose Hours of Jean Robertet he completed around 1465 (New York, Morgan Library and Museum, MS M.834). At an early stage of his career, he benefited from the protection of Charlotte of Savoy, Queen of France as the spouse of King Louis XI (r. 1461-1483), although it is unclear whether Colombe was ever actually hired to serve her. Louis de Laval was his best client, who commissioned from him the Hours of Louis de Laval(Paris, BnF, MS lat. 920), sumptuously decorated with no less than twelve hundred miniatures, and historical manuscripts such as Sébastien Mamerot’s Passages d’Outremer (Paris, BnF, MS fr. 5594; see Avril and Reynaud 1993, 1 79-180, pp. 328-330). Colombe worked in Bourges almost his entire life, except for the years 1486-1489 when he was recruited to serve Charles I (1468-1490), Duke of Savoy, at his court in Chambery. The Duke had him complete both the Très Riches Heures of Jean de Berry (Chantilly, Musée Condé, MS 65), begun by the Limbourg brothers, and the Savoy Apocalypse, begun by Jean Bapteur and Peronet Lamy (Escorial, Royal Library, MS E. Vit. 5). In the aftermath of Colombe’s death around 1493, his sons Philibert and François ensured the continuity of the workshop, of which at least seventy illuminated manuscripts survive today (for a list, see Seidel 2014, pp. 197-215). Jean Colombe exercised considerable influence on the development of late fifteenth-century French illumination, and his profusely ornamented style spread widely, not only in Bourges, but also in Troyes and Lyons.

The anonymous artist responsible for these four full-page miniatures could be named after a Book of Hours for the use of Rome, illuminated around 1490 for Jean I de Ferrieres (d. 1497), seigneur de Presles, and his wife Marguerite of Bourbon (1445-1483), legitimate daughter of Jean II (1426-1488), Duke of Bourbon (previously Les Enluminures; now Princeton, Cotsen Children’s Library, MS 46825; on which see Skemer 2003, vol. 2, pp. 138-140, pl. 11-12). The Master of Jean de Ferrieres appears to have enjoyed success at the court of Bourbon in Moulins, not far from Bourges, under the regency of Anne of France and Pierre of Bourbon (1483-1491). Indeed, in the same years, Jean de Vienne, seneschal of Bourbonnais (1482-1499), commissioned a Book of Hours for the use of Rome from the same artist (sold in Paris, Drouot, 25 June 2020, lot 2, to the BnF). Previously unpublished, the Du Breuil Hours is the third known illuminated manuscript of the Master of Jean de Ferrières and the sole in private hands. The prestigious profile of this Bourbon clientele suggests that it may well have been illuminated for Jeanne Toustain and her husband Pierre III Du Breuil, mayor of Bourges in 1500 (see above).

The style of the Master of Jean de Ferrières stands out from the most repetitive production of his contemporaries, who usually simplified models stemming from the Colombe workshop. The Master of Jean de Ferrières’ production is easily recognized by the distinctive use of green pilasters and columns in the gold architectural frames of his miniatures, which do not appear in Colombe’s repertoire. The Pentecost miniature’s frame (f. 1) is best compared to that of St. Luke in the Hours of Jean de Ferrières (fig. 2; Princeton, Cotsen Children’s Library, MS 46825, f. 14v). Similarities include the green columns crowned with cabbage-leaf capitals, the arch decorated with twisted leaves of cabbage and topped by a fleuron, trimmed in both miniatures. The narrow green fluted pilasters of the Annunciation’s frame (f. 37) are reminiscent of those framing St. Matthew in the Hours of Jean de Ferrières (fig. 3; Princeton, Cotsen Children’s Library, MS 46825, f. 16). On the other hand, the profiled entablature and cornice are almost identical to those of the St. Mark miniature in the Hours of Jean de Vienne (fig. 4; Drouot, 25 June 2020, lot 2, f. 15). In his three known manuscripts, the Master of Jean de Ferrières often alternates between architectural frames, plain gold frames, and floral borders. Yet, no other example of golden frames embellished with jewels and pearls, such as those of the Pietà (f. 27) and David penitent (f. 103) miniatures, is known from his production.

The habit of enclosing the miniature within a gold architectural frame, meant to simulate the metalwork of devotional altarpieces, is itself a hallmark of Jean Colombe’s production, as is the base inscribed with the textual incipit (see e.g. figs. 6-8). The debt of the Master of Jean de Ferrières to the Bourges illuminator extends into the miniatures themselves. The most obvious similarities can be seen in the rounded modeling of the Virgin face in the Annunciation (f. 37), with a high forehead and slit-like eyes; in the repeated combination of a lapis blue mantle with a dark blue robe, and in the subtle and nuanced lighting of the folds with gold hatchings and stipples (see e.g. fig. 6). The white and rounded face of the Virgin Mary, with firmly outlined eyes and eyebrows, red cheeks and conspicuous red lips, is identical to that of St. John in the Hours of Jean de Ferrières (fig. 5; Princeton, Cotsen Children’s Library, MS 46825, f. 13). The attitudes of the apostles in the Pentecost (f. 1) also closely resemble Colombe’s mannerisms, especially so in the foreshortening of upturned faces and in the representation of crowds by drawing halos as circles overlapping above the front row of figures. Finally, the landscapes of the Pietà (f. 27) and David penitent (f. 103) miniatures include elements of scenery borrowed from Jean Colombe’s production. These are the tall rock formations and the three overlapping blue hills receding into the distance, itself a motif invented by Jean Fouquet.

The secondary decoration of the manuscript further confirms the relationship of the Master of Jean de Ferrieres to Jean Colombe and the location of his activity in Bourges. The large, rounded initials are ornate throughout with liquid gold on red or blue grounds, and infilled with foliage and floral motifs that are virtually identical to those of other initials illuminated in manuscripts of the Colombe workshop. These include Books of Hours now in Chantilly (Musée Condé, MS 78), Florence (Biblioteca Laurenziana, MS pal. 241), Paris (BnF, Arsenal, MS 434), Oxford (Bodleian Library, MS Gough liturg. 14), and Sidney (State Library of New South Wales, MS 1/7c), to cite only but a few. This suggests that the Master of Jean de Ferrières would have collaborated with the same copyists and illuminators as Jean Colombe did in Bourges, such as André Rousseau.

These four full-page miniatures witness a singular interpretation and intimate knowledge of various models conceived by Jean Colombe and his workshop in the 1470s and 1480s. The Pentecost (f. 1), with the Virgin enthroned and surrounded by the apostles upon whom rest the tongues of fire, ultimately derives from Jean Fouquet’s composition in the Hours of Etienne Chevalier (Chantilly, Musée Condé, MS 71). Colombe had already simplified this model in the Hours of Jean Robertet (New York, Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.834, f. 126). It was subsequently emulated in a number of Colombe manuscripts, usually with the Virgin kneeling on the floor, and St. John and St. Peter seen in the foreground (see Sidney, State Library of New South Wales, MS 1/7c, f. 65). The illuminator of the present manuscript may have known an intermediary composition that combined these different features. However, the tripartite division of the church is a hallmark of his own production, comparable both to St. Luke in the Hours of Jean de Ferrières (fig. 2) and to the Annunciation in the Hours of Jean de Vienne(Paris, Drouot, 25 June 2020, lot 2, f. 22).

The miniature of the Pietà (f. 27) is based on a well-known model of Jean Colombe, widely spread and reused in most of his manuscripts (see e.g. fig. 6; New York, Morgan Library and Museum, MS M.330, f. 13). Similarities include the landscape setting at the foot of the Cross, the attitude and garments of the Virgin praying with the Christ lying on her knees, and the figure of Mary Magdalene holding her ointment pot on the right side. However, the Master of Jean de Ferrières slightly deviates from Colombe as he represents St. Nicomedus instead of St. John, kneeling and holding the head of Christ on the left. Another difference is the inclusion of a man in profile in the background, who could be identified either as St. John or as a stereotyped portrait of a donor, maybe Pierre III Du Breuil (see above).

The Annunciation (f. 37) further reveals the Master of Jean de Ferrières’ thorough knowledge of Jean Colombe’s production. The scene is set in a courtyard, which receding perspective opens onto a landscape in the center. This principle ultimately derives from Jean Fouquet’s Annunciation in the Hours of Jean Robertet (New York, Morgan Library and Museum, MS M.834, f. 29). Jean Colombe knew this miniature as he completed the manuscript and drew on it in the Bureau Hours (Paris, Drouot, 22 November 1977, f. 40), and in the Hours of Jean de Laval (Paris, BnF, MS lat. 920, f. 52), to cite but a few. The Master of Jean de Ferrières combines this concept with another model of Annunciation, invented by Colombe, based on a diagonal receding perspective opening onto a narrow archway. An example of the latter is found in a Book of Hours for the use of Rome illuminated in the early 1480s (fig. 7; Besançon, BM, MS 148, f. 23; on which see Avril and Reynaud 1993, 185, p. 336).

Finally, the figure of David on bended knee (f. 103), praying in full armor in a landscape, probably derives from its counterpart in the Très Riches Heures of Jean de Berry, completed by Colombe around 1485 (fig. 8; Chantilly, Musée Condé, MS 65). On the other hand, the landscape setting closely resemble other miniatures of Colombe, with David dressed in a robe, as seen for example in the Hours of Anne de France (New York, Morgan Library and Museum, MS M.677, f. 232v). The iconography narrates the story of the destroying angel, sent to afflict Israel with pestilence in punishment for David’s census, who kneels and claims for mercy. Interestingly, the Master of Jean de Ferrières reused the same model in an almost identical way in the Hours of Jean de Vienne, but with the giant Goliath instead of David (fig. 9; Paris, Drouot, 25 June 2020, lot 2, f. 22).


Unpublished; further literature, see:

F. Avril and N. Reynaud, Les manuscrits à peintures en France 1440-1520, Paris, 1993, pp. 325-338.

M. Jacob, Dans l’atelier des Colombe (Bourges 1470-1500): La représentation de l’Antiquité en France à la fin du XVe siècle, Rennes, 2012.

J.-Y. Ribault and J.-L. Aurat, “Le décor de la chapelle Saint-Jean-Baptiste, cathédrale de Bourges,” Monumental 5, 1994, pp. 7-13. 

C. Seidel, Jean Colombe, Guillaume Piqueau, Louis Fouquet (?): zwei unbekannte bedeutende Stundenbücher aus dem Fouquet-Kreis um 1475, Ramsen, 2014.

C. Seidel, Zwischen Tradition und Innovation: die Anfänge des Buchmalers Jean Colombe und die Kunst in Bourges zur Zeit Karls VII. von Frankreich, Simbach am Inn, 2017.

D. Skemer, Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Princeton University Library, vol. 2, pp. 138-140, plates 11-12.

N. Reynaud, “Quelques réflexions sur la chapelle des Breuil à la cathédrale de Bourges,” Cahiers d’archéologie et d’histoire du Berry. Mélanges Jean-Yves Ribault, special issue, 1996, pp. 287-292.

Online Resources

S. Voisin, G. Béroujon, M. Lacroix, and E. Devaux, Les Dubreuil, une famille de notables à Bourges, XIIIe-XIXe siècles, 2012. http://img.roglo.eu/~S.Milani/divers/CAHIER_I-Version_ADC_2012.pdf

Chantilly, Musée Condé, MS 65 (fully digitized): https://bvmm.irht.cnrs.fr/mirador/index.php?manifest=https://bvmm.irht.cnrs.fr/iiif/22470/manifest

Paris, BnF, MS lat. 920 (fully digitized): https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b52501620s

New York, Morgan Library and Museum, MS 834: http://ica.themorgan.org/manuscript/thumbs/76921

 BOH 193

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