Small-scale Royal Masterpiece made for King Charles VIII of France

Sandra Hindman talks about the Petites Heures of Charles VIII in this exceptional "Meet the Expert" video filmed at TEFAF Maastricht 2020.

The Petites Heures of Charles VIII marks the dawn of a renewed trend for minute masterpieces of parchment made for members of the royal family and court. This manuscript is one of five extant manuscript Books of Hours known to have been made for the personal use of Charles VIII, King of France (r. 1483-1498) and the sole to remain in private hands.  Unquestionable evidence of his royal patronage lies in the presence of a full-page miniature with his achievement of arms and of an ex-libris with his name and personal motto, as well as in the textual and decorative content of a manuscript that is suited only to the needs of a French sovereign. The second tiniest Book of Hours ever made for King Charles VIII, the Petites Heures of Charles VIII were illuminated in Paris by the Master of the Chronique scandaleuse, regarded as the most innovative artist active in late fifteenth-century Paris. The challenging size of the present manuscript demonstrates his utmost mastery of color at a microscopic scale. Preceding by no less than four years the commission of the famous Très Petites Heures of Anne of Brittany, the Petites Heures of Charles VIII appears as a hitherto unpublished and probable inspiration for the Queen’s own patronage

iv (modern paper) + 6 folios (ff. 1-6, front flyleaves added slightly later) + 206 folios (ff. 7-212) + 12 folios (ff. 213-224, back flyleaves added slightly later), + vii (modern paper), folios on parchment, modern foliation in pencil, complete, mostly in gatherings of eight (collation: i6, ii-v8, vi4, vii-xvi8, xvii2, xviii-xxix8, xxx4), written in dark brown ink in a cursive gothic bookhand, capitals touched with yellow, on 14 lines ruled in red (justification 41 x 28 mm), rubrics in red, 1-line initials throughout in burnished gold on red or blue ground, 2-lines initials throughout in white, red, blue, or gold on red, blue or burnished gold ground, touched with white and liquid gold, with scrolls extending into the margins, some in-filled with plants and animals, 5 large 4-5-lines initials in white on red and burnished gold ground, with scrolls extending into the margins, in-filled with flowers, birds, and insects, 10 small miniatures, including seven with three-sided floral border on gold ground, 1 full-page heraldic miniature and 12 full-page miniatures set within fictive golden frames on faux-marbled surrounds, decorated with fainted statues or gemstones, one accompanied by a full-page heraldic border on the facing recto; occasional tiny chips in paint of the colored background at edges of miniatures frames, very faint offsetting from fictive golden frames onto facing rectos, otherwise in excellent condition. Bound in a refined 18th-century (?) paneled brown morocco binding, gilt-tooled with a central cartouche with the crowned arms of France modern and fleur-de-lis in the corners, edges gilt and gauffered with diapered fleur-de-lis, leather tabs at pages with miniatures, 19th-century clasps and catches, slight cuffings at joints, otherwise in excellent condition. 73 x 49 mm.


1. Illuminated by the Master of the Chronique scandaleuse in Paris before 1494 for Charles VIII, King of France (r. 1483-1498). The patronage of the French sovereign is evident for his achievement of arms is the subject of a full-page miniature introducing the Hours of the Virgin (f. 42): two kneeling angels support his crowned shield with France modern (azure, three fleurs-de-lys or), collared with the order of St. Michel, and crowned with his helmet and crest on a ground of France ancient (azure, semé-de-lys or). Unquestionable evidence of the personal use of the present manuscript by Charles VIII is provided by the ex-libris added in the lower margin of the facing verso with his motto “plus. quautre.” followed by his name “charles. viiie.” (f. 41v). Complementary evidence of his patronage is provided by the presence of golden fleurs-de-lys in the border of the previous opening (f. 38v), as well as of the following which border is painted with crowned monograms “k” of karolus on a semé-de-lys or (f. 43). The personal nature of the commission is also confirmed by the masculine form of the prayers and the fact that Charles’s patron saints and holy predecessors Charlemagne and Louis IX are the only male saints singled out for illustration in the Suffrages (ff. 197 and 198). 

Charles was born at Amboise on 30 June 1470 as the only surviving son of Louis XI and his second wife Charlotte of Savoy. He succeeded to the throne on 30 August 1483, aged thirteen. According to the wishes of his deceased father, the regency of the kingdom was granted to Charles’s elder sister Anne, who ruled together with her husband Pierre of Bourbon until 1491. That year, Charles married Anne of Brittany after she had already been married by proxy to the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. Since Maximilian failed to press his claim, Charles became upon his marriage administrator of Brittany and avoided France total encirclement by Habsburg territories. As a ruling monarch, Charles VIII was keen to secure his claim on the throne of Naples that René d’Anjou had left to his father. Following the death of Ferdinand I of Naples on 24 January 1494 and the coronation of Alfonso II, Charles VIII invaded Italy with an army of 25,000 men and marched across the peninsula virtually unopposed. On 22 February 1495, he took Naples without a siege; Alfonso II was expelled and Charles crowned as King of Sicily and Jerusalem. 

Inherited from the French crusaders of the thirteenth century, the title of King of Jerusalem was a hollow title more than a formal adornment. However, it became part of the French court’s propaganda and was used by the French sovereign in the form of heraldry (see Scheller, 1981, pp. 18-26). Beginning in March 1494, Charles VIII added to his own arms those of Jerusalem (see Avril and Reynaud, 1993, p. 311). Manuscripts illuminated for Charles VIII after then by Jean Bourdichon, Jean Poyer or François le Barbier demonstrate the very consistent use of a composite coat-of-arms pairing France modern collared with the order of St. Michel with France ancient quartered with Jerusalem collared with the order of the Crescent (fig. 1-2; see Herman 2016, pp. 136-144). Since this composite coat-of-arms was not chosen for the achievement of arms of the present manuscript (f. 36), its commission must predate 1494. Its heraldic features are best compared to a series of heraldic frontispieces added by Jean Bourdichon to three manuscripts of the Royal Library after 1488 (fig. 3; Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2829), circa 1490 (Paris, BnF, MS fr. 823), and circa 1492 (Paris, BnF, MS fr. 5054), as well as to a frontispiece painted in 1488 by the artist of the present manuscript in the first printed book to ever enter the Royal Library (fig. 4; Paris, BnF, Vélins 677, see Petit 2011).

In Naples, Charles VIII arranged the shipment of great quantities of booty to Amboise. A document of December 1495 records the transport of 43 tons of artworks, including 130 tapestries, a great number of paintings and furniture, ivories and jewels, as well as 1140 volumes from the Aragonese library of Naples. On his way back to France, Charles lost many of his personal possessions to Francesco Gonzaga as a result of his defeat at the Battle of Fornovo. Among these items was a portrait of his young son Charles-Orland, most likely that painted by Jean Hey (Paris, Louvre), but also “precious books from the holy chapel” (see Herman 2014, pp. 237-238, n. 224). Although it is not known whether the present manuscript was part of the Fornovo booty, Books of Hours, which did not belong to the Royal Library, were usually carried along the most private belongings of the French sovereigns.

Kings, queens, and members of the royal French family often possessed a small number of illuminated Books of Hours of different sizes tailored to fit their own needs. The inventories of John, Duke of Berry count up to sixteen Books of Hours differentiated by their size, richness or liturgical use. Accordingly, royal and ducal Books of Hours are usually distinguished according to their size and richness. For instance, Queen Anne of Brittany, wife to Charles VIII and his cousin Louis XII, owned by the end of her life the Très Petites Heures illuminated by Jean d’Ypres (fig. 14; Paris, BnF, MS n.a.l. 3120, see below), the Petites Heures illuminated by Jean Poyer (Paris, BnF, MS n.a.l. 3203), and the famous Grandes Heures illuminated by Jean Bourdichon (Paris, BnF, MS lat. 9474).     

The present manuscript included, only five manuscript Books of Hours are known to have been made for the personal use of King Charles VIII. These are, in a chronological order: a Book of Hours for the use of Paris, illuminated by his court painter Jean Bourdichon after 1488 (Paris, BnF, MS lat. 1370; see Herman 2014, pp. 206-209); the present manuscript also for the use of Paris, illuminated before 1494 by the Master of the Chronique scandaleuse; the La Flora Hours, began by Simon Marmion before 1489 and completed by Jean Bourdichon c. 1494 (Naples, Biblioteca nazionale, I B 51; see Kren and McKendrick 2003, 93, pp. 330-334); an even smaller Book of Hours commissioned by Ludovico Sforza from Giovan Pietro Birago as a gift offered to him in 1494 (fig. 5, Venice, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, MS 4, 60 x 38 mm; see Cutolo 1947); and a Book of Hours painted by François le Barbier fils, presented to him by Anthoine Verard after 1494 and later repainted with the portrait of Louis XII (fig. 1, Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de España, MS Vit. 24-1; see Dominguéz Rodríguez 1995). The second tiniest Book of Hours ever made for Charles VIII, the present manuscript can thus be regarded as the Petites Heures of Charles VIII.

2. Paris, Librairie Auguste Blaizot, 1967-1969 (catalogue 326, no. 1681; catalogue 331, no. 387).

3. Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 4 décembre 2000 (collection Serrier), no. 25.


ff. 1v-4, Prayer, incipit “Deus propicius esto michi…” (addition); ff. 4v-10v, blank (ruled);

ff. 11-22v, Calendar, including noteworthy saints and feasts such as St. Charlemagne, in red (Jan. 28), Translation of St. Martin, in red (Jul. 4), St. Denis, in red (Oct. 9), St. Martin, in red (Nov. 11);

ff. 23-31, Gospel Sequences; 

ff. 31v-33, Passion according to John;

ff. 33v-38, Obsecro Te in the masculine form;

ff. 38v-41v, O Intemerata;

ff. 42v-108v, Hours of the Virgin, use of Paris, with Matins (f. 43), Lauds (f. 56v), Prime (f. 71), Terce (f. 78), Sext (f. 83v), None (f. 88v), Vespers (f. 93v), Compline (f. 96v); f. 109, blank (ruled);

ff. 110-117, Hours of the Cross;

ff. 117v-123, Hours of the Holy Spirit;

ff. 123v-147v, Seven Penitential Psalms and Litany; f. 148, blank (ruled);

ff. 148v-196v, Office of the Dead (use of Paris);

ff. 197-209v, Suffrages to St. Louis (f. 197), St. Charlemagne (f. 198), St. Martin (f. 199), St. John the Baptist (f. 199v), St. Peter and St. Paul (f. 200), St. James (f. 200v), St. Christopher (f. 201), St. Nicholas (f. 202), St. Sebastian (f. 202v), St. Anthony (f. 204), All Saints (f. 205), St. Genovefa (f. 206), St. Anna (f. 206v), St. Maria Magdalena (f. 207v), St. Katherine (f. 208), St. Barbe (f. 209);

ff. 210-212, Prayer and suffrage to St. Claude, incipit “O desolatorum consolator…” (addition); f. 212v, blank (unruled); f. 213-224, blank (ruled).

The textual content of the present manuscript is best compared to a Book of Hours commissioned by Charles VIII from his court painter Jean Bourdichon in the early years of his reign (Paris, BnF, MS lat. 1370; see Hermant 2012, p. 168). Both manuscripts follow the liturgical use of Paris, while the Calendar shows a preference for Tours, with the feast of St. Martin (Jan. 28) and of his Translation (Nov. 11). The choice to begin the Suffrages of the present manuscript with St. Louis, St. Charlemagne, and St. Martin is highly unusual and reveals the personalized nature of the commission, as does the fact that St. Louis, St. Charlemagne, and St. Genevieve, patron saint of Paris, are the only saints singled out for illustration. 


One full-page heraldic miniature and twelve full-page miniatures, set within fictive golden frames on faux-marbled surrounds, decorated with fainted statues or gemstones:

f. 42, Angels supporting the Royal Arms of France;

f. 42v, Annunciation, with a full border of crowned monograms “k” on France ancient on the facing recto;

f. 56v, Visitation;

f. 71, Nativity;

f. 78, Annunciation to the Shepherds;

f. 83v, Adoration of the Magi;

f. 88v, Presentation in the Temple;

f. 93v, Flight into Egypt;

f. 96v, Assumption with Coronation of the Virgin by two Angels;

f. 109v, Crucifixion;

f. 117v, Pentecost;

f. 123v, David giving Uriah the letter to Joab;

f. 148v, Dives in Hell and Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham.

Ten small miniatures, seven of which are accompanied with three-sided floral border:

f. 23, St. John on Patmos, floral border with a trellis, snail, and butterflies on burnished gold ground;

f. 25v, St. Luke, floral border with tree-trunks with the branches cut off on red ground;

f. 27v, St. Matthew, floral border with birds on burnished gold ground;

f. 30, St. Mark, floral border on checkered grounds of burnished gold;

f. 31v, Betrayal, floral border on diagonal grounds of burnished gold;

f. 33v, Virgin and Child, floral border with bird on burnished gold ground;

f. 38v, Pieta, floral border on red ground with golden fleur de lys on blue losangic grounds;

f. 197, St. Louis;

f. 198, St. Charlemagne;

f. 206, St. Genevieve.

The anonymous Parisian artist responsible for the illumination of the present manuscript is the Master of the Chronique scandaleuse, active in Paris c. 1490-1520 and named after a copy of Jean de Roye’s chronicle of the reign of Louis XI (Paris, BnF, MS Clairambault 481, see Avril and Reynaud 1993). He had first been coined by John Plummer the Master of Morgan 219 after a Book of Hours in the Morgan Library (see Plummer 1982, 125-126, pp. 97-99) and subsequently renamed the Master of Jean de Bilhères after a Book of Hours made for this abbot of Saint-Denis (Paris, BnF, MS lat. 1071).

The full-page miniatures of the Visitation (f. 56v) and Nativity (f. 71) offer typical examples of his style, easily recognized by his rounded figures with half-closed eyelids, cheeks highlighted with red hatching, and conspicuous red lips. Painting with loose and rapid brushstrokes, the Master of the Chronique scandaleuse succeeds in combining in the same miniature densely modeled draperies with translucent veils and watercolor-like landscape. Characteristic of his palette is a preference for strong vibrant colors, especially blue, crimson red, and purple, sometimes balanced with green (f. 71), as well as the abundant use of liquid gold for the depiction of drapery and scenic elements. The origins of his style lie with court painter Jean Poyer of Tours, with whom the Master of the Chronique scandaleuse shares a taste for the rounded modeling of the faces, a similar subtlety in the use of color, models and motifs such as golden frames decorated with gemstones.

The Master of the Chronique scandaleuse’s mastery of color is best demonstrated with the Crucifixion (f. 109v) of the present manuscript. This miniature witnesses his lasting ambition to arrange the lighting of the sky in accordance with the dramatic nature of the action. The story accounted for by three of the four Gospels runs that while Jesus was hanging on the cross, the sky darkened for three hours. Here, the burnished gold horizon, bathed with red and orange hazes, shines through clouds of unevenly crushed lapis lazuli blue pigment. The candle lighting of the nocturnal setting is subtly rendered with the abundant use of liquid gold for the draperies and the spears of the troop of soldiers in the background, unfortunately damaged by the use of oxidized silver highlights. Similar dazzling skies are often chosen by the artist to describe celestial apparitions, such as the Virgin of the Assumption (f. 96v) or Abraham holding Lazarus (f. 148v). The Master of the Chronique scandaleuse extends this signature principle to celestial apparitions encountered in other literary or historical manuscripts, such as the Wrath of God introducing Lactantius’s De ira Dei in a volume that was illuminated along with Jean Pichore for bibliophile cardinal Georges of Amboise (fig. 6, Paris, BnF, MS lat. 1671, f. 222).

As noted by Delaissé, the artist’s “painterly, frequently even sketchy technique is unusual at a time when French manuscript illumination was so often as linear in style as it was ostentatious in spirit” (Delaissé, Marrow, and De Wit 1983, p. 296). Reynaud also accounted for the “modern” vision of the Master of the Chronique scandaleuse, preoccupied with the broader vision of the miniature rather than the technical perfection of every detail (Avril and Reynaud 1993, pp. 276-77). This approach singles him out from the conventional style practiced by the many Parisian artists with whom he often worked, such as François le Barbier fils. His painterly technique isparticularly emphasized by the challenging size of the full-page miniatures of the Petites Heures of Charles VIII (no more than 6 cm high within frame). Although the figures enclosed within these minute scenes are best compared to the bas-de-page miniatures painted in larger manuscripts or incunabulas (see e.g. fig. 10), the virtuosity of the Master of the Chronique scandaleuse is such that their overall impression matches that of larger-scale compositions based on the same models. Compare, for example, the Visitation and Crucifixion with those of a Book of Hoursfor the use of Rennes (fig. 7-8; Paris, BnF, MS lat. 10551, ff. 39 and 49), the Assumption with that of a Louenges a nostre Dame presented to Louise of Savoy (fig. 9; Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2225, f. 1), or the miniature of Abraham appearing to Dives, illustrating the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), with that of the so-called Hours of Charles Quint (fig. 10; Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de España, MS Vit. 24-3, f. 205).

That the Master of the Chronique scandaleuse was entrusted with the commission of the Petites Heures of Charles VIII comes as no surprise considering his frequent interventions in deluxe copies printed on vellum and presented to King Charles VIII in the years 1488 to 1496. As early as 1488, Pierre Le Rouge, who introduced himself as “printer to the King”, entrusted the Master of the Chronique scandaleuse with the illumination of several full-page miniatures added to a luxurious copy printed on vellum of La Mer des histoires, the first printed book to ever enter the Royal Library (fig. 4, Paris, BnF, Vélins 677; see Petit 2011). The famous Parisian publisher Anthoine Vérard also commissioned from him the frontispiece miniatures of three luxurious books, printed on vellum, and subsequently presented to Charles VIII: Jacques de Voragine’s Légende dorée,printed in 1493 (Paris, BnF, Vélins 689), Boccacio’s Des nobles malheureux, printed in 1494 (Paris, BnF, Vélins 774), and the Fontaine de toutes sciences du philosophe Sydrach,printed in 1496 (Paris, BnF, Vélins 489). The full-page miniature introducing the Légende dorée (fig. 10, see Avril and Reynaud 1993, no. 151) portrays Charles VIII kneeling in prayer and presented to the celestial court by his saint patrons St. Louis and St. Charlemagne; in the bas-de-page-miniature, Anne of Britanny and her ladies-in-waiting are associated to the holy encounter. The contribution of the Master of the Chronique scandaleuse to the production quality of these deluxe copies marked a crucial step towards the elevation of the printed book to the level of a unique illuminated manuscript worthy of a sovereign (see Winn 1997).

Throughout his career, the Master of the Chronique scandaleuse often received prestigious commissions from members of the royal family, eager to emulate the taste of King Charles VIII. Around 1493, the Master of the Chronique scandaleuse illuminated a French translation of Ovid’s Heroids that might have been made for Anne of Brittany, once again portrayed among her ladies-in-waiting (Christie’s, 7 July 2010, lot 42). A decade later, after Anne had remarried to King Louis XII, the Master of the Chronique scandaleuse received the commission of the Queen’s personal copy of André de La Vigne’s Description of the Coronation of Anne of Brittany, her Entry into Paris, and Coronation Banquet (fig. 10; Waddesdon, Waddesdon Manor, MS 22; see Delaissé, Marrow, and De Wit, pp. 471-486). The position held by the Master of the Chronique scandaleuse, as one of the most sought-after Parisian illuminator of his time, endured with the reign of Louis XII. In the late 1500s, the Master of the Chronique scandaleuse illuminated two devotional books for Louise of Savoy, mother to Francis I (see fig. 7, Paris, BnF, Vélins 124 and MS fr. 2555), as well as the Changement de fortune en tout temps composed by Michel Riz and offered to Margaret of Austria after her election as Regent of the Habsburg Netherlands (Vienna, ÖNB, Cod. 2625).

Minute Books of Hours such as the Petites Heures of Charles VIII were the privilege of kings, queens, and courtiers. This challenging format was also regarded as a tour de force, prone to demonstrate an illuminator’s utmost mastery. Although a history of royal minute Books of Hours remains to be written, it would surely begin with the Hours of Jeanne d’Évreux (fig. 13, New York, Cloisters Collection, 92 x 62 mm), a manuscript commissioned c. 1324-28 by King Charles IV from Jean Pucelle as a gift for his wife Jeanne d’Évreux. A demonstration of exceptional artistry, this illuminated masterpiece also reflects a contemporary trend for miniaturized artworks made of ivory or alabaster. A hundred sixty years later, the Petites Heures of Charles VIII mark the dawn of a renewed trend for ever tinier masterpieces of parchment. The commission of the Petites Heures of Charles VIII (73 by 49 mm) preceded by no less than four years that of the famous Très Petites Heures of Anne of Britanny (66 by 46 mm), illuminated by Parisian painter Jean d’Ypres c. 1498 (fig. 14, Paris, BnF, MS n.a.l. 3120; see Avril and Reynaud 1993, pp. 266-67). The Petites Heures of Charles VIII thus appears as a hitherto unpublished and likely source of inspiration for the Queen’s own patronage. Although the style and format of their decoration differ, both manuscripts are minute masterpieces tailored for the personal devotions of the royal couple as well as splendid demonstrations of the mastery acquired by the two most important illuminators of late fifteenth century Paris. The royal patronage of Charles VIII and Anne of Brittany was rapidly imitated by members of the royal family and court. One of the most well-known example is that of Claude de France, daughter of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany and wife to Francis I. Eager to celebrate her coronation as Queen of France, she commissioned in 1517 a minute Prayer Book (69 x 49 mm) of almost the same size as the present manuscript from the eponymous Master of Claude de France (fig. 15, New York, Morgan Library & Museum, MS M. 1166).


Unpublished; further literature, see:

F. Avril and N. Reynaud, Les manuscrits à peintures en France, 1440-1520, Paris, 1993, 151-52, pp. 275-277.

A. Cutolo. L’Officium parvum beatae Mariae Virginis, donato da Ludovico il Moro a Carlo VIII re di Francia, Florence, 1947.

A. Domínguez Rodríguez, Libro de Horas de Carlos VIII, rey de Francia, Barcelona, 1995.

L.-M.-J. Delaissé, J. Marrow, and J. de Wit, The James A. de Rothschild Collections at Waddesdon Manor. Illuminated Manuscripts, Friburg, 1977.

N. Herman, Jean Bourdichon (1457-1521): Tradition, Transition, Renewal, unpublished doctoral dissertation, New York, 2014.

N. Herman, “Bourdichon héraldiste,” in Art et société à Tours au début de la Renaissance, ed. M. Boudon-Machuel and P. Charron, Turnhout, 2016, pp. 129-146.

M. Hermant, “Heures de Charles VIII, à l’usage de Paris,” in Tours 1500. Capitale des arts, ed. B. de Chancel-Bardelot, P. Charron, P.-G. Girault, and J.-M. Guillouët, Paris/Tours, 2012, 35, p. 168.

T. Kren and S. McKendrick (ed.), Illuminating the Renaissance. The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe, Los Angeles, 2003.

N. Petit, “Master of the Chronique scandaleuse. La Mer des hystoires. Le Martirologe des sainctz,” in Kings, Queens and Courtiers: Art in Early Renaissance France, ed. M. Wolff, Chicago/New Haven, 2011, 28, p. 84.

J. Plummer, with the assistance of G. Clark, The Last Flowering: French paintings in manuscripts, 1420-1530, from American collections, New York, 1982.

R. W. Scheller, “Imperial Themes in Art and Literature of the Early French Renaissance: The Period of Charles VIII,” Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, 12, 1, 1981, pp. 5-69.

M. B. Winn, Anthoine Vérard: Parisian Publisher 1485-1512. Prologues, Poems and Presentations, Geneva, 1997.

BOH 182

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