36

Description

EXCEPTIONAL DISCOVERY, THE ONLY BOOK OF HOURS BY THE RARE MASTER OF CHARLES OF MAINE

This newly discovered Book of Hours of relatively large format sheds light on the revival of French book illumination in the aftermath of the Hundred Years’s War. It is the first known devotional manuscript illuminated by the Master of Charles of Maine, an important anonymous artist, known for his “instinctive, expressive and dreamlike vision” (Stirnemann 2009, p. 314). He was named in 1993 after his patron, for whom he worked almost exclusively: Charles of Anjou (1414-1472), count of Maine and Guise, governor of Languedoc, youngest brother to René of Anjou, and favorite of King Charles VII of France (r. 1422-1461), his brother-in-law.  Devoid of any heraldic features that could help identify the patron, the manuscript was nevertheless likely made for a member of Charles of Maine’s court eager to emulate his demanding taste. Textual evidence suggests that the patron may have been related to the city of Chartres, situated at equal distance from Paris and Le Mans, capital of Maine.

i (modern paper) + 111 folios + i (modern paper), folios on parchment, modern foliation in pencil, complete, mostly in gatherings of eight (collation: i2, ii8, iii6, iv-viii8, ix8+1, x8, xi-xiv8, xv6), written in dark brown ink in a cursive gothic bookhand, capitals touched with yellow, on 22 lines ruled in red (justification 140 x 85 mm), rubrics in red, 1-line initials throughout in burnished gold on red and blue ground touched with white, 2-lines initials throughout in burnished gold on red and blue ground touched with white, with scrolls of burnished gold vine leaves extending into the inner margin, 1 historiated 5-line initial in burnished gold on blue or red ground, 14 large miniatures with full borders, the miniatures in arch-topped compartments above 5-line initials of red and blue on burnished gold ground, all surrounded by three-sided baguettes, illuminated blue and red with white tracery on burnished gold ground, with five acanthus sprays sprouting from each corner, some slight faints, otherwise in excellent condition. Bound in a 19th-century purple damask velvet binding with floral patterns of roses, some slight scuffing, otherwise in excellent condition. Dimensions 205 x 170 mm.

Provenance

1. The manuscript was written for the use of Paris, and numerous feasts and saints related to Paris appear in the calendar. Stylistic evidence indicates a date c. 1450-1460. The patron may have been related to the court of Charles of Maine (1414-1472), count of Maine and Guise, since the Master of Charles of Maine worked almost exclusively for him (see below). Of particular interest is the presence in the calendar of St. Leobinus (15 Sept), bishop of Chartres, whose name was probably written in red at the patron’s request. Since Chartres is situated at almost equal distance from Paris and Le Mans, capital of Maine, it is likely that the patron would have been related to this city.

2. Inscribed in a 20th-century hand with pencil, on the upper pastedown: “14 grandes figures” and “carol”; on the lower pastedown: “12182.”

3. French Private Collection. 

Text

ff. 1-12v, Calendar in French, major feasts in red; numerous feasts related to Paris, including St. Susanna (19 Feb), St. Honorina (27 Feb), St. Agapitus (20 March), St. Arnulf (28 March), St. Denis, in red (9 Oct), St. Genovieve (26 Nov); and other local saints such as St. Gaudus (31 Jan), bishop of Évreux, and St. Leobinus, in red (15 Sept), bishop of Chartres. 

ff. 13-16, Gospels extracts; [f. 16v, ruled, otherwise blank]; 

ff. 17-52v, Hours of the Virgin, use of Paris, with Matins, ff. 17-22, Lauds, ff. 23v-31, Prime, ff. 32-35v, Terce, ff. 36-38v, Sext, ff. 39-41v, None, ff. 42-44v, Vespers, ff. 45-49, Compline, ff. 49v-52v; 

ff. 53-60v, Penitential Psalms; 

ff. 60v-65, Litanies; [f. 65v, ruled, otherwise blank];

ff. 66-69v, Hours of the Cross;

ff. 70-73, Hours of the Holy Spirit; [f. 73v, ruled, otherwise blank];

ff. 74-100v, Office of the Dead, unrecorded use;

ff. 101-103, Obsecro te (masculine form);

ff. 103-105, O Intemerata;

ff. 105v-108v, Fifteen Joys of the Virgin (in French); 

ff. 109-111, Seven Requests to our Lord (in French). 

Illustration

Fourteen full-page miniatures:

f. 17, Annunciation to the Virgin;

f. 23v, Visitation; 

f. 32, Nativity; 

f. 36, Annunciation to the Shepherds; 

f. 39, Adoration of the Magi; 

f. 42, Presentation to the Temple; 

f. 45, Flight into Egypt; 

f. 49v, Coronation of the Virgin; 

f. 53, David in Prayer, with Bathsheba bathing as an ancillary scene;

f. 66, Crucifixion;

f. 70, Pentecost; 

f. 74, Funeral office and burial; 

f. 105v, Virgin and Child with an Angel playing the harp; 

f. 109, Throne of Mercy. 

One historiated initial:

f. 101, Virgin and Child enthroned. 

The fourteen large miniatures and one historiated initial of this devotional manuscript can be attributed to the Master of Charles of Maine, an anonymous illuminator who appears to have been active almost exclusively for his eponymous patron (see Avril and Reynaud, 1993, 21-22, pp. 121-122). Most characteristic of his style are the elongated silhouettes ending with tiny figures (f. 23v), the decorative richness of the interiors (f. 42), the distant landscapes filled with rocks, rolling hills and castles (f. 36), and the overall play on contrast and disproportion that often emphasizes a sense of wonder over concerns of realness and spatial illusionism shared by most of his contemporaries (f. 105v). Indeed, according to Patricia Stirnemann, the Master of Charles of Maine “stands out from his contemporaries by his instinctive, expressive and dreamlike vision, which, with its translucent colors, places at the heart of the image the sensations born of the story” (Stirnemann 2009, p. 314). 

The extensive and unpublished illustration of this manuscript is best compared to the most original miniatures illuminated by the Master of Charles of Maine: those of Albert the Great’s De natura avium (Paris, BnF, MS lat. 6749A, on which see Avril and Reynaud 1993, 61, p. 121, and Avril 2009, 29, p. 310) and Noël the Fribois’ Mirouer historial abregié de France (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 968), both commissioned by Charles of Maine around 1450. The first of these two manuscripts opens with a frontispiece miniature that represents the patron enthroned, holding his manuscript open on two folios with illuminated birds, in a chamber whose tapestries display his coat of arms (fig. 1). The elongated canon, solemn attitude and calm gesture of the count is strikingly similar to the Heavenly Father of the miniatures of the Coronation of the Virgin (f. 49v) and Throne of Mercy (f. 109) in our book of hours. In both manuscripts, faces are built up with small short strokes of brown and black, hands are large and demonstrative, folds are crisp, angular, and vividly hatched, sometimes with liquid gold. The Throne of Mercy (f. 109) presents a very similar interior setting to the frontispiece miniature of the De natura avium. A thick diaphragm arch, highlighted with liquid silver, invites the reader into the pictorial space. The depth of the chamber is suggested by the floor tiling, made of the exact same green and contrasted tiles, and traced according to the same reverse perspective. The elegant secondary decoration of both manuscripts is also very similar: the large miniature and decorated initial of each opening section are framed with three golden baguettes, and acanthus sprays sprout from each corner onto the floral border. 

The second manuscript to consider for attribution is the large presentation copy of Noël the Fribois’ Mirouer historiel abregié de France (Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 968; on which see Daly 2005, and Stirnemann 2009, 30, p. 312), written after 1451 and dedicated to Charles of Maine, whose motto “Sy myeulx non pis” appears in the margins.  Kathleen Daly suggested that the Master of Charles of Maine must have cooperated closely with the author, Noël the Fribois, notary and secretary to King Charles VII, in order to conceive this extensive cycle of fifteen imaginative miniatures (see Daly 2005, p. 114). The Oxford manuscript can be considered the masterpiece, and most singular work of the Master of Charles of Maine. In addition to the recurring treatment of human figures as elongated silhouettes with tiny faces, drawn with short brushstrokes, and draped in ample blue robes and purple-red mantles, the Mirouer historiel abregié de France offers a wide array of features that are nearly identical to the miniatures of our book of hours. For instance, the composition of Charlemagne and Carloman (fig. 2) shares with the miniature of the Throne of Mercy (f. 109) not only the elongation of the royal figure, but also the combination of a diaphragm arch, starry blue ogive vaults, with a green-tiled floor traced according to a reverse perspective. Starry blue ogive vaults supported by tiny columns do occur throughout the entire Book of Hours (ff. 17, 42, 53, 70, 105v) and throughout most of the artist’s production. Another example of the Master of Charles of Maine’s consistent vision can be seen with the miniature of Charlemagne Embracing St. Louis (fig. 3): its impressive white architecture opens onto the scene from both a frontal and diagonal perspective, in a way that is identical to the Pentecost miniature (f. 70). Finally, a miniature such as the coronation of Pippin by the Pope (fig. 4) is also reminiscent of the decorative richness of the Presentation of the Temple (f. 42): both interior settings are filled with hangings of different colors, generously embroidered with gold. 

The landscapes of the present manuscript are also consistent with other works of the Master of Charles of Maine, such as the Roman de Tristan en prose, begun by the Master of Dunois for Prigent of Coëtivy in the 1440s, completed for Charles of Maine, and subsequently passed onto his son-in-law, Jacques of Armagnac (Chantilly, Musée Condé, MS 648; Dijon, BM, MS 527; on which see Avril and Reynaud 1993, 62, p. 121-122, Stirnemann 2009, 31A-31B, p. 314, and Delcourt, Stirnemann, and Schandel 2009). In both manuscripts, the artist tends to represent the topography from an aerial perspective, yet depicts his figures in a simple front view: compare for example the miniature of the Annunciation to the Shepherds (f. 36) with that of Tristan climbing the mountain of hermits (fig. 5). The overall impression is that of an inconsistent pictorial space. As a result, one often encounters bonsai-sized trees in the foreground that do not diminish with the receding depth of the landscape. These tiny trees often introduce a river in the foreground, usually stemming from a stone reservoir, as seen in the miniatures of the Annunciation to the Shepherds (f. 36) or of Mohammed with His Wives inOxford (fig. 6). Another consequence of this approach is the vertical arrangement of the landscapes that are seen through windows from interior settings, as in the miniatures of the Throne of Mercy (f. 109) and of Charlemagne and Carloman in Oxford (fig. 2)

The Master of Charles du Maine was first named by François Avril in 1993 after his most important patron: Charles of Anjou (1414-1472), count of Maine and Guise, governor of Languedoc, and favorite of King Charles VII (r. 1422-1461). The third son of duke and duchess Louis II of Anjou and Yolande of Aragon, Charles of Maine is the youngest brother of both René of Anjou (1409-1480), King of Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem, and Marie of Anjou (1404-1463), Queen of France as the spouse of Charles VII. Thanks to the considerable influence of his family, Charles of Maine became the favorite of the King, his brother-in-law, from 1433 to 1445. After a period of disgrace that he shared with his brother René, Charles returned to the royal court in 1455 as one of the King’s most trusted advisors, until his death in 1461. Charles then had a more difficult relationship with his successor, King Louis XI of France (r. 1461-1483), whom he betrayed in 1465 at the Battle of Montlhéry, when he fled with the royal rearguard. Disgraced in 1466, Charles of Maine retired to his lands where he died in 1472. 

The patronage of René of Anjou, and of other bibliophile noblemen of the royal court such as Prigent of Coëtivy and Jean of Dunois, may well have inspired Charles of Maine’s demanding interest for illuminated manuscripts. Indeed, in the early 1460s, the Good King René dedicated the well-known Livre des tournois, illuminated by his court painter Barthélémy d’Eyck, to his youngest brother Charles (see Gautier 2009, no. 23, pp. 276-283). In the dedication of the manuscript, René states that he had thought of writing this treatise of the rules for tournaments because he knew the pleasure Charles takes in seeing new images and new texts: “I, René of Anjou, your brother, let you know that knowing for a long time the pleasure you take in seeing new images and new texts, I thought of writing a little treatise for you, as detailed as I was able to do” (Paris, BnF, MS fr. 2695, f. 1). 

Little is known of Charles of Maine’s personal library, mainly because in 1508 his manuscripts were inventoried altogether with René’s in Saint-Maximin, without due distinction (see Gautier 2009, pp. 26-27). However, François Avril was able to reconstruct the career of two artists who both worked almost exclusively for him and were likely part of his court or immediate circle. The first is the illuminator of a botanic treatise, the Livre des simples médecines now in Saint Petersburg (National Library of Russia, MS fr.F.v.VI, 2; see Avril 2009, 32, pp. 315-316). The second is the Master of Charles of Maine, illuminator of the present manuscript. 

Until then, the Master of Charles of Maine’s production included only four extant manuscripts of literary, historical, or scientific content, each one made for Charles of Maine around 1450. These are the manuscripts of Noël de Fribois’ Mirouer historial abregié de France, dated after 1451 (figs. 2–4, 6; Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 968), of Albert the Great’s De natura avium (fig. 1; Paris, BnF, MS lat. 6749A), the Roman de Tristan en prose in two volumes, begun by the Master of Dunois (fig. 5; Chantilly, Musée Condé, MS 648; Dijon, BM, MS 527), as well as a manuscript of Louis de Langle’s Tractatus de figura seu imagine mundi (Madrid, Biblioteca nacional, MS 9267; see Avril 2009, pp. 234-235). Also worth mentioning is a Gradual in two volumes, illuminated for a canon of St. Gatien’s cathedral in Tours, who was a member of the Le Picart family; unfortunately, this manuscript was destroyed during the Second World War (Tours, BM, MSS 208-209; see Avril and Reynaud 1993, 61–62, pp. 121–122). 

This Book of Hours thus survives as the fifth extant manuscript illuminated by the Master of Charles of Maine, his first known devotional manuscript and the sole to remain in private hands. Although it is devoid of any heraldic features that may help identify the patron, it is likely to have been made for a member of Charles of Maine’s court who would have been eager to emulate his taste. Since the textual features strongly point towards Paris, it should be remembered that members of the Angevin courts frequently sojourned in this city, restored as the capital of the kingdom soon after its liberation in 1435. Of particular interest is the presence in the calendar of local saints such as St. Gaudus (31 Jan), bishop of Évreux, and most importantly, St. Leobinus (15 Sept), bishop of Chartres, whose name was probably written in red at the patron’s request. Since Chartres is situated at almost equal distance from Paris and Le Mans, capital of Maine, it is likely that the patron would have been related to this city. 

The relationship of the Master of Charles of Maine himself with Paris deserves further study. Some miniatures in the present manuscript are conceived according to models that are essentially of Parisian descent. For instance, the composition of the Annunciation (f. 23v) is nearly identical to that of another Book of Hours for the use of Paris, probably illuminated in the circle of the Dunois Master, heir to the Bedford Master (fig. 7; Paris, BnF, MS lat. 1395, f. 24). According to François Avril, the Master of Charles of Maine’s style is “still strongly influenced by the conceptions that prevailed in Parisian illumination in the second quarter of the century: clear and luminous colors with clear-cut contrasts, an exaggeratedly high and incoherent perspective, to which is added a tendency to stylize forms that accentuates the unreal character of his scenes (Avril and Reynaud1993, p. 121). Another clue of this relationship to Paris is the staggering composition of landscapes such as those of the Visitation (f. 23v) and Annunciation to the Shephers (f. 36), which can be compared to the frontispiece of the Chantilly volume of the Roman de Tristan en prose, illuminated in the early 1440s by the Master of Dunois (fig. 8).

A retrospective style, the art of the Master of Charles of Maine preserves the lasting memory of an older tradition: that of the Bedford Master, with whom he likely trained in Paris. Interestingly, other members of Charles of Maine’s family shared this sort of nostalgia for the International Gothic Style and the Parisian illumination that preceded English occupation.  In the 1430s, Charles’ mother, Yolande of Aragon, duchess of Anjou, commissioned both the Rohan Hours (Paris, BnF, MS lat. 9474) and the Hours of Isabella Stuart (Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, MS 62) from the Rohan Master, active at the court of Angers (see Avril 2009, pp. 41-42). These two illuminated masterpieces reflect the last flowering of the International Gothic Style. To assume that Charles of Maine sought to emulate his mother’s taste would surely help explain why he recruited such an artist as the Master of Charles of Maine to serve him in an almost exclusive capacity in the 1450s. One could even describe some of the Master of Charles of Maine’s most original miniatures, with the words of Erwin Panofsky, contemplating on the Rohan Hours: “Not overly refined in taste and technique, utterly disinterested in the modern problem of space, but unsurpassed in power of imagination and feeling” (Panofsky 1953, p. 74). 

Literature

Unpublished; further literature, see: 

F. Avril and N. Reynaud, Les manuscrits à peinture en France, 1440-1520, Paris, 1993. 

F. Avril, “L’héritage: quelques livres des premiers ducs d’Anjou”, in Splendeur de l’enluminure. Le roi René et les livres, ed. M.-E. Gauthier, Angers/Arles 2009, pp. 37-42. 

F. Avril, “Ludovicus de Angulo, Tractatus de figura seu imagine mundi”; “Albert le Grand, De natura avium”; “Le livre des simples médecines ou Les Secrets de Salerne,” in Splendeur de l’enluminure. Le roi René et les livres, ed. M.-E. Gauthier, Angers/Arles, 2009, 8, pp. 233-235; 29, pp. 310-311; 32, pp. 315-316. 

G. Clark, Art in a Time of War. The Master of Morgan 453 and Manuscript Illumination in Paris during the English Occupation (1419–1435), Toronto, 2016. 

K. Daly, “Picturing Past Politics: French Kingship and History in the Mirouer historial abregié de France,” Gesta 44, 2005, 2, pp. 103–124. 

T. Delcourt, P. Stirnemann, and P. Schandel, “Le Tristan en prose conservé au Musée Condé à Chantilly et à la Bibliothèque municipale de Dijon,” Art de l’enluminure, 30, 2009. 

M.-E. Gautier (ed.), Splendeur de l’enluminure. Le roi René et les livres, Angers/Arles, 2009. 

E. Panofsky, Early Netherlandish Painting. Its Origins and Character, Cambridge, MA, 1953.

P. Stirnemann, “Noël de Fribois, Mirouer historial abregié de France”; “Le Roman de Tristan en prose (en deux volumes),” in Splendeur de l’enluminure. Le roi René et les livres, ed. M.-E. Gauthier, Angers/Arles, 2009, 30-31, pp. 312-315.

Online Resources

Chantilly, Musée Condé, MS 648:

https://bvmm.irht.cnrs.fr/consult/consult.php?reproductionId=16086

Dijon, BM, MS 527:

https://bvmm.irht.cnrs.fr/consult/consult.php?reproductionId=7590

Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Bodley 968:

https://digital.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/inquire/p/a4bef4ab-0e18-4b9d-8dea-893eeee41a56

Paris, BnF, MS lat. 6749A (fully digitized):

https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b6001153g/f11.image

BOH 194

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