Atelier of the Hotel des Invalides
In 1683, a description of the royal foundation, the Hôtel des Invalides, established to house and care for war veterans, specifies that the residents are to occupy themselves with three activities: exercises de dévotion (prayer), exercises militaries (military drills), and exercises des arts. This third activity included the making of shoes and clothes for the army, but it also included the writing and illuminating of manuscripts, which the veterans did for their own use and for sale to local religious establishments. When King Louis XIV visited the Hôtel des Invalides c. 1683, he was so impressed by the beauty of the illuminated manuscripts that he decided to commission from the Atelier service books for use at the royal court. Over the next decade he ordered six lavishly illuminated manuscripts, including a Vesperal in two parts (Paris, BnF, MSS lat. 9476-77). The royal accounts provide extensive documentation on each of these commissions, most of which can be identified among the extant manuscripts from the royal library.
The illumination of this leaf is virtually identical to that of two leaves in the second part of Louis XIV's Vesperal in Pars, and the text is an abridgment from the same manuscript. The royal accounts, however, do not mention a second commission of a near-duplicate Vesperal. It seems likely, therefore, that this page (and a small group of sister leaves with which it belongs) comes from an earlier unfinished version of King Louis's Vesperal. The projected manuscript originally included an abridged version of the text, omitting the texts of prayers and psalms that appeared earlier in the manuscript. Sometime during production, probably after about a third of the manuscript was completed, this original scheme was abandoned, the unbound leaves must have been discarded, and it was decided to begin a new project, repeating the text for all the prayers and psalms. The final version, the manuscript today in Paris, is thus considerably longer. The title page secures its provenance and date: Heures de Louis le Grand faites das l'hostel royal des Invalides. MDCXCIII. Since payments for the second part begin in 1688 in the royal accounts, our page must date between 1688 and 1693.
The payments for these royal commissions were made to the financial officer of the Hotel des Invalides, with the result that the documents reveal nothing about the identities of the painters who worked in the Atelier des Invalides. But, the illuminators must have had contact with painters employed by the king. The lush still life, with flowers and birds artfully arranged in and around a vase, recalls large-scale paintings by Baptiste Monnoyer as well as the smaller gouaches by Jean Joubert (died 1707), who was a painter working in the Cabinet du Roi, which specialized in still-life paintings on parchment of flowers and birds. The hybrid nature of this exquisite miniature from King XVII's Vesperal thus places it conceptually midway between the aesthetic of medieval book illumination and that of the modern decorative arts.
A later collector transformed this text leaf into a small tableau by cutting up yet a third leaf from the same group and apparently discarding its border.
Chantilly, Musée Condé, MS 1547 (4 leaves); published Chantilly, Musée Condé Manuscrits, I. Théologie, Jurisprudence, Science et Arts, Paris, 1900.