Master of the Très Petites Heures of Anne de Bretagne (Jean d’Ypres)
Wood covered in leather, flat lid with tooled leather, reinforced by three iron fittings, hinges, a lock the interior lined in green, side loops, no cushion (180 x 260 x 110 mm.)
Woodcut, Saint Roch (234 x 67 mm.), xylographic text of a suffrage to Saint Roch, “Ora pro nobis beate roche. Ut mereamur preservari a peste epidemie …” (Pray for us Saint Roch. That we may be worthy of being preserved from the mortal plague …), original coloring, some fading, some water damage, no restoration, unidentified mark (ex-libris?)
Jammes 21, BnF Est. Res. Ea 50, and Musée historique du Vieux Vevey (Switzerland) (three other impressions known)
This is an interesting example, not only because of the rare image of Saint Roch, who protected against the plague, and the accompanying prayer, but also because of the typology of the Coffer, which is distinctive from others in the group and includes tooled leather covered with fittings and no extra compartment. The saint is shown here with the dog that miraculously brought him water and licked his wounds while in the wilderness and against the background of a town that may be Montpelier. Jammes 21 with the same impression of St. Roch sold for 68,000 Euro.
Approximately 140 Gothic Coffers and fugitive prints survive (110 Coffers and 30 prints), most in European museums. All French from around 1490 to 1510. A few preserve their secret compartments or their horsehair cushions, evidence that they once contained relics 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. 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.
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Lepape and Michel Huynh on the typology of the coffers, the identity and attribution of the prints (including a yet-unpublished census), and the union of print and coffer.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. The painting thus encourages us to revisit the question of the purpose of these traveling boxes – symbols of “the house and the garden of the Virgin.” The painting helps clarify the interactive viewing context of the Gothic Coffers and confirms the long-held theory of their use as book boxes.
Many unresolved issues remain, however. Further analysis of the texts of all the prints awaits publication. Most of the short texts, which are all xylographic, include excerpts from prayers and biblical texts. But, their precise sources, how they were chosen and by whom, and how they shaped the devotional experience of the Gothic Coffers needs clarification. Preliminary findings are presented here.
The artistic milieu for the production of the prints also merits closer attention. Attribution of the designs for the prints to the Master of the Très Petites Heures of Anne de Bretagne is generally accepted, but scholarship on this artist (variously known also as the Master of the Apocalypse Rose of the Sainte-Chapelle, the Master of the Chasse à la licorne, the Master of the Life of Saint John the Baptist, and now identified as the painter Jean d’Ypres) is complex, and the workings of his atelier unclear. This multi-media artist was responsible for painted altarpieces, stained glass windows, designs for tapestries, illuminated manuscripts (his eponymous Book of Hours is Paris, BnF, NAL 1320 of 1498), and designs for woodcuts. His style, as well as his repertory of models, establishes him as the artistic heir of the Master of Coëtivy, the latter possibly identical with the painter, Colin d’Ypres (active 1450-1485). The documented career of Jean d’Ypres from c. 1490 to 1508 corresponds with that of the Master of the Très Petites Heures of Anne de Bretagne. Yet, the volume and diversity of his artistic production in the international arena of the Parisian art market at the beginning of print culture suggest a flourishing workshop not a lone individual.
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.
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