PROPERTY FROM THE LIBRARY OF SIR HENRY HOPE EDWARDES, BART, OF WOOTTON HALL, ASHBOURNE, DERBYSHIRE
THREE LONG-LOST MINIATURES FROM LES MIRACLES DE NOSTRE DAME OF PHILIP THE GOOD, DUKE OF BURGUNDY, ILLUMINATED BY LIEVEN VAN LATHEM, in French, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[Southern Netherlands, c.1460]
Jean Miélot, author and scribe to Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, compiled a two-volume work bringing together the legends concerning the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The first volume, La vie et miracles de Nostre Dame (Paris, BnF, ms fr. 9198) has a scribal colophon recording its completion, for Philip, at The Hague in 1457 (n.s.). The second volume of this set, by the same scribe and illuminator, Les miracles de Nostre Dame is in Oxford (Bodleian Library, Douce ms. 374). At a slightly later date the duke commissioned a further copy of this second volume, (BnF, fr.9199). Whatever prompted its commission, it was planned as a superior version: its text was revised, presumably by Miélot himself, its large initials have grounds of burnished gold and its miniatures are by a greater artist, Lieven van Lathem. It is undoubtedly from this volume that lots 4-6 were removed.
All three volumes (Paris, BnF, fr.9198 and 9199 and Douce 374) appear in the inventory drawn up after the Duke's death in 1467 (see A. de Laborde, Les miracles de Nostre dame compilé par Jean Miélot Étude concernant trois manuscrits du XVe siècle ornés de grisailles, 1929; Douce 374 is identifiable in the 1467 inventory with no 735, J.-B. Barrois, Bibliothèque protypographique, 1830). They were part of the Bibliothèque de Bourgogne in the royal palace in Brussels and appear in the inventory of 1577-79 as numbers 612, 613 and 614: fr. 9199 still has the corresponding shelfmark inscribed by the royal bibliothècaire, François Damant in 1579. Whereas the Oxford volume apparently left the palace, the two Paris volumes clearly shared a common history: they have identical late 18th-century bindings and fr. 9199 certainly remained in the library: it contains a record signed in 1761 by Charles of Lorraine, Governor of the Austrian Netherlands, and his younger sister, Anne Charlotte of Lorraine, noting that its miniatures had been copied by Jan Bruegel. In 1794 the French seized virtually all the manuscripts of the Bibliothèque de Bourgogne and sent them to Paris, where these volumes are among the many that remained despite the restitution agreed in 1814.
All details of the execution of these three cuttings match that of fr. 9199: the text is written in black ink in the same elegant bâtarde hand in a single column, width 170 mm, between lines ruled in red; text capitals are touched yellow. Each miracle is headed by a rubric in red (as trimmed in lot 6) and opens with a large initial on a gold ground (as trimmed in lot 4). The manuscript is lacking two central binions from both the second and tenth gatherings, so that four leaves with five miniatures are missing between ff.12 and 13 and four leaves with two miniatures from between ff.100 and 101. The subjects of the miniatures that are now offered as lots 4-6 correspond to those on missing leaves. They had been removed before the manuscript was foliated; Delisle, publishing in 1886, referred to the foliation as 18th-century and to the leaves as long missing, 'depuis longtemps' (L. Delisle, 'Les miracles de Nostre-Dame rédaction en prose de Jean Miélot', Extrait du Bulletin historique et philologique du Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques, p.7). Nothing was known of their fate until the three miniatures in the following lots were discovered in a private collection, with upper edges laid down on paper and protected in an album with the bookplate of Sir Henry Hope Edwardes Bart (1829-1900). Because the Miracles are among the early examples of the new Burgundian fashion for luxuriously illuminated books with unembellished margins, no border decoration was lost when they were trimmed.
Aesthetic preference not cost surely governed Philip the Good's pronounced taste for both undecorated borders and grisaille, in which he was followed by the other great bibliophiles of his court. Anthony of Burgundy -- the Grand Bâtard among Philip's illegitimate sons -- had Lieven van Lathem paint a magnificent series of semi-grisaille miniatures for the so-called Breslauer Froissart of 1468 (see A. Lindner, Der Breslauer Froissart, Festschrift des Vereins für Geschichte der bildenden Künste zu Breslau, 1912). Van Lathem is known to have been in Philip's service in Ghent between 1456 and 1459, possibly when he was working on Les miracles de Nostre Dame, and he went on to illuminate a prayer book for Philip (Paris, BnF, ms n.a.fr. 16428). From 1462 he was settled in Antwerp and became one of the leading painter-illuminators employed by Philip's son and successor, Charles the Bold; he died in 1493 having been retained during his final years by Maximilian of Habsburg.
Before the discoveries of Antoine de Schryver, his oeuvre was first attributed to a 'Master of the Toison d'or' and then, mistakenly, to Philippe de Mazerolles (see A de Schryver, The Prayer Book of Charles the Bold, 2008, for the historiography and works of van Lathem). Despite the misidentification of their author, the miniatures in fr. 9199 have consistently attracted the highest praise as they exhibit all the characteristics of van Lathem's superlative draughtsmanship and painting technique, where flecks of paint and liquid gold vary colour and tone with astonishing assurance. The underdrawing shows equal speed where it was not followed in paint: for spires and pinnacles against the skyline (lots 4 and 5) and for the two figures of the academic to the right on lot 5. For the great connoisseur and art historian comte Paul Durrieu, there was nothing so exquisite as these little paintings and he marvelled at the way the tiny faces of their protagonists were made to show all the movements of the soul, sorrow, joy and ecstasy (de Laborde, p.59). This talent joined to his ability to depict spatially convincing townscapes and atmospheric landscapes made him especially gifted at narrative: according to Thomas Kren, his miniatures 'set the standard for secular narration for the following decades', while his landscape 'looks forward to the paintings of Joachim Patinir' (T. Kren and S. McKendrick, Illuminating the Renaissance, the Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe, 2003, p.239).
Van Lathem's achievements in the miniatures of fr.9199 and the present lots are made even more striking by a comparison with the same scenes in the Oxford volume, of which they are mostly reversed versions. In both, the miracles -- a comparatively rare opportunity for illuminators to show every day life -- are cast in contemporary costume, so intensifying their relationship to their original viewers. Van Lathem, however, gave his compositions an immediacy and impact lacking in the earlier more obviously staged and less detailed miniatures, by consistently lowering the viewpoint, scaling the buildings more realistically to the figures and piercing backdrop screens of buildings or hills to show dramatically receding streets or landscape vistas. The gulf between the illumination in fr. 9198 and van Lathem's in fr.9199 has been noted by François Avril (see 'Jean le Tavernier: un nouveau livre d'heures', Revue de l'Art, 126, 1994, p.21).Whether working from the text or on advice from Miélot or possibly using Miélot's original minute, the plan for layout and illustrations, van Lathem was careful to make his miniatures correspond more closely with the text, as in lot 4, where he additionally included the scene of the boy offering his bread to a statue of the Virgin and Child.
The demand for his work from such outstanding bibliophiles as the two dukes of Burgundy, the Grand Bâtard and Louis of Gruuthuse meant that he employed assistants. Lot 6 is by a closely related and accomplished hand whose work can be distinguished in other miniatures in fr. 9199, most, as noted by de Laborde, without flesh tints and gold detailing. Instead, he skilfully indicated flesh with touches of white and dark grey on a mid-grey base and the absence of gold accords with his lower tonal range and gentler transitions.
THE REAPPEARANCE OF THESE LONG-LOST MINIATURES OFFERS AN EXTREMELY RARE OPPORTUNITY TO PARTICIPATE IN THE REFINED SPLENDOUR OF THE BURGUNDIAN COURT OF PHILIP THE GOOD.
15th Century, Books & Manuscripts, medieval & renaissance manuscripts, Belgium, religious
Books & Manuscripts