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Description

From a presumably lost manuscript of Francesco Eiximenes’ Livre des Anges, this leaf was illuminated in Paris in the workshop of Colin d’Amiens (Master of Coëtivy). The Livre des anges is divided into five books: the first describes the nature of angels, the second presents the ranks and orders of the celestial hierarchy, the third discusses the benefits of angels, the fourth describes the creation of the angels, and the fifth is devoted to the archangel St. Michael. This leaf, foliated ff. 86-86v, would have introduced the end of the third book and the beginning of the fourth, with a large arch-topped miniature showing a group of angels in full-armor defeating four demons armed with sticks. A second leaf, foliated ff. 143-143v, introduced the fifth book of the same manuscript with a large miniature of St. Michael slaying the Devil before kneeling laymen and King.

This leaf surrounded by a vivid floral border is closely related to the style of Colin d’Amiens, identified with the Master of Coëtivy, deemed “the most important artist active in Paris in the third quarter of the fifteenth century” (Avril and Reynaud 1993, pp. 58-69; Lorentz 2004, pp. 97-102). The miniature is distinguished by its convincing representation of the landscape’s depth and airiness, extending towards a cityscape that may represent Paris. The battle scene is carefully conceived: a thoughtful play on the swords’ bristling, the swirling draperies, and the subtle distribution of colors and gold highlights provide the miniature with a sense of poetic fantasy. These characteristics are best compared to some of the hundred inventive miniatures Colin d’Amiens illuminated in a manuscript of the Histoire ancienne and Faits des Romains (Paris, BnF, MS fr. 64, see e.g. fig. 1, 2). The present leaf was likely illuminated within his workshop, by a talented assistant who may have contributed to a Book of Hours for the use of Paris now in Prague (National Library of the Czech Republic, MS CIL L 190; Stejskal 1994, pp. 717-718). Stylistic similarities with the Annunciation to the Shepherds of the latter (f. 68: fig. 3) include the oval-shaped white figure of the squared-hair angels, the subtle gold highlighting of the bushes and trees, and the delicate balance of the figures in the foreground with their landscape. 

A French translation of Françesc Eiximenis’ Llibre dels Àngels written in 1392, the Livre des Anges describes the properties and characteristics of angels. This treatise of angelology offers a compilation of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite’s De triplici gerarchia that describes nine ranks of angels, divided into three Spheres, each with three Orders of angels. The first sphere gathers the Seraphim, Cherubim, and Thrones; the second, Dominations, Virtues, and Powers; the third, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels. The closest celestial beings to men, angels are also the most likely to intercede in their favor.

A Franciscan writer born in Gerona, Eiximenis (1327-1409) was among the most important theologians and moralists of the crown of Aragon (Planas Bádenas 1997-1998). Dedicated to Pere d’Artés, chamberlain to King John I of Aragon (r. 1387-1396), this text enjoyed an important success throughout Europe that contributed to the restoration of the cult of angels in the fifteenth century.  It was translated into French and published as a first printed edition in Geneva as soon as 1478. Only twelve manuscripts of this French translation were recorded in the early twentieth century (Massó i Torrents 1909-1910, pp. 627-633), three of which illustrated with miniatures (Paris, BnF, MS fr. 186; MS fr. 24773; Arsenal, MS 5213). Historiated manuscripts of the French translation are rare, and often related to prestigious patrons. These include a manuscript in Geneva (Bibliothèque de Genève, MS fr. 5), illuminated by the Master of the Geneva Boccacio for Jeanne of Laval, second wife to King René of Anjou (r. 1435-1480), and another one in Paris (BnF, MS fr. 186) commissioned by the prominent bibliophile Louis de Bruges, Lord of Gruuthuse, from the Master of the Getty Froissart.

There is only one sister leaf known from this presumably lost manuscript (Les Enluminures, MIN 20-26).

Literature

Unpublished; see for comparisons:

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

P. Lorentz, “La peinture à Paris au XVe siècle: un bilan (1904-2004),” in Primitifs français, Découvertes et redécouvertes, ed. D. Thiébaut, P. Lorentz, and F. René-Martin, Paris, 2004,pp. 86-107.

J. Massó i Torrents, “Les Obres de fra Francesch Eiximeniç (1340? – 1409?). Essaig d’una bibliografia,” Anuari. Institut d’Estudis Catalans, 1909-1910, pp. 588-692.

J. Planas Bádenas, “Los códices ilustrados de Francesc Eiximenis: análisis de su iconografía,” Anuario del Departamento de Historia y Teoría del Arte 9-10, 1997-1998), pp. 73-90.

K. Stejskal, “Über die Illuminatoren der Französischen Stundenbücher in der Prager Nationalbibliotek,” Wiener Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte 46/47 (1994), pp. 715-724.

MIN 20-27

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