Master of François de Rohan (active Paris, c. 1525-1546)
This large initial ‘C’ most likely comes from a Choir Book, as the reverse is inscribed with musical notation on two four-lines staves with the words “dedit benedicti” and “et confundens.” On the right side appears St. Charlemagne (742-814), who is easily identified based on his costume. He wears a tiara-like crown and armor beneath an ermine mantle with a double-headed golden eagle on azure and holds his sword as he receives a pope’s blessing. The latter, wearing a papal tiara and carrying the papal cross as he blesses with his right hand, may be tentatively identified as Pope Leo III (796-815), known to have crowned Charlemagne as Emperor of the Romans on 25 December 800 (fig. 1). It follows that the Renaissance building seen in the background may allude, albeit vaguely, to the facade of St. Peter’s Old Basilica where the coronation took place. Although the association of Charlemagne with Leo III in such an initial remains unrecorded, its rarity may indicate that the Choir Book to which it once belonged would have been made for a royal patron such as Francis I (r. 1515-1547). In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the cult of St. Charlemagne grew rapidly, alongside that of St. Louis, as these two holy predecessors became the favorite patron saints of the French Kings (fig. 2).
Furthermore, the initial can be attributed to the Master of François de Rohan, one of the most sought-after illuminators at the court of King Francis I (r. 1515-1547). Leo III and Charlemagne meet in a walled garden with blossoming plants that is reminiscent of the frontispiece of the eponymous Fleur de Vertu translated by François de Rohan, dated 1530 (Paris, BnF, MS fr. 1877, f. 1: fig. 3). The liveliness of these two stolid male types, the draperies animated with “fish bones” folds made of liquid gold and white, highlights and shadows worked with thin lines are consistent with the Master of François de Rohan’s expressive style. Charlemagne’s type, for instance, is highly similar to Alexander’s in the Fleur de Vertu (Paris, BnF, MS fr. 1877, f. 30v: fig. 4). Another close example is the enthroned figure of Girard de Vienne in the frontispiece of a later historical manuscript (Paris, BnF, MS fr. 25208, f. 6: fig. 5). The artist devoted a keen attention to the subtle rendering of light’s effects. White highlights are minutely applied on Charlemagne’s beard, nose, frowned eyebrows and wrinkles, on Pope Leo’s sleeves and tiara, as well as on the curved, translucent marble columns of the facade. This unpublished initial thus appears as an outstanding example of the Master of François de Rohan’s early production.
The Master of François de Rohan was christened by Janet Backhouse as the Master of Francis I after a sumptuous Book of Hours illuminated for him in 1539 (see Backhouse 1967). François Avril later renamed him after the forty-eight miniatures of the Fleur de Vertu translated by François II de Rohan, archbishop of Lyons, and dated 1530 (fig. 3 and 4; see Orth 1998; Damongeot 2016). Active in Paris from around 1525 to 1546, the Master of François de Rohan is well-known for his imaginative subject matter and lively narration, his careful yet expressive modeling of the faces, strong bright colors and clearly defined compositions. Only a handful of the twenty-one illuminated books listed by Myra Orth beside nine printed books remain in private hands (Orth 2016).
Although the artist sometimes collaborated with other Parisian illuminators, his specific style isolates him from his contemporaries. On the basis of his extravagantly-dress characters, close-packed compositions, and typical stolid male types, Myra Orth has argued for the roots of his style to be found in books illustrated in Basel in the 1520s (Orth 1998). Likely a foreigner of Germanic or Swiss origin, the Master of François de Rohan thrived in sixteenth-century Paris, as did a few other important Northern and Eastern artists at that time. The artist benefited from a prestigious clientele, ranging from the King himself to members of his court, from the royal family to members of the high clergy. In 1539, he received the commission of the only extant fully illuminated Book of Hours made for King Francis I (sold by Les Enluminures to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Acc. 2011.353; see Croizat-Glazer, 2013).
Unpublished; further literature see:
J. Backhouse, “Two Books of Hours of Francis I,” The British Museum Quarterly, 31 (1967), pp. 90-96.
M.-F. Damongeot, Flor de Virtud, Barcelona, Caixa Catalunya, 2007.
Y. Croizat-Glazer, “Sin and Redemption in the Hours of François I (1539–40) by the Master of François de Rohan,” The Metropolitan Museum Journal, 43 (2013), pp. 121-142.
M. D. Orth, “The Master of François de Rohan: a familiar French Renaissance miniaturist with a new name,” in M. P. Brown and S. McKendrick, Illuminating the Book: Makers and Interpreters. Essays in honor of Janet Backhouse, London, The British Library, 1998, pp. 69-91.
M. D. Orth, Renaissance Manuscripts. The Sixteenth Century, London, Harvey Miller Publishers (A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in France), 2016, vol. 1, p. , vol. 2, nos. 59-64, pp. 204-219.
La Fleur de Vertu translated by François de Rohan, illuminated in 1530 by the present artist: