THE MOLÉ-BOUCHERAT HOURS, use of Troyes, in Latin and French, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
208 x 147mm. iii+177 leaves: 1-26, 3-68, 77(of 8, lacking viii), 8-108, 116, 12-138, 142, 158, 163(of 4, i cancelled blank), 177(of 8, lacking iii), 187(of 8, viii cancelled blank), 197(of 8, lacking i), 20-248, 256(of 8, vi and viii cancelled blanks), three of the lacking folios with miniatures, catchwords survive at the centre lower edge of the final versos of some gatherings, pencil foliation 1-176 with two folios numbered 5 followed here, 15 lines in brown ink written in a gothic bookhand between two verticals and 16 horizontals ruled in pink, justification: 95 x 68mm, text capitals touched yellow, one-line initials of burnished gold against grounds and infills of pink and blue with white decoration, line-endings of the same colours, two- and three-line initials with staves alternately of pink or blue against burnished gold grounds with an ivy-leaf spray in the infill, FULL-PAGE BORDER ON EVERY PAGE with sprays of golden leaves and trefoils on hairline tendrils with terminals of naturalistically coloured flowers and fruit, a bar border in the outer margin, TWENTY-FOUR SMALL CALENDAR MINIATURES within similar borders and TWENTY-ONE LARGE ARCH-TOPPED MINIATURES accompanied by full-page borders with baguettes of monochrome-patterned pink and blue and burnished gold with panels of interlace and curling acanthus leaf terminals and sprays of golden leaves on hairline stems, FULL-PAGE ARMORIAL MINIATURE, (slight smudging to ink outlining on some folios, gold from borders of versos sometimes showing through, tiny pigment losses from a few miniatures and affecting the face of the Virgin on f.76 and the body of Christ on f.107v). Modern dark red morocco by C.M. Ullman, morocco-backed box.
A SPLENDID BOOK OF HOURS EXTENSIVELY ILLUMINATED BY THE ROHAN MASTER
1. Presumably made for the lady, in bourgeois dress, kneeling before the Trinity on f.107v. She was presumably resident in the diocese of Troyes and may have been an ancestor of Guillaume II Molé or Simone Le Boucherat.
2. Guillaume II Molé and his wife Simone Le Boucherat: the armorial frontispiece added on f.iii by an illuminator of c.1480 shows two shields, one with the arms of Molé, gules, two stars or above a crescent argent, the other with these arms impaling Boucherat, azure, a cock or combed gules. The shields are suspended from a helm with blue and gold mantling and with the crest of a half-length naked youth, they are flanked by two naked youth supporters. The base of the helm carries the name GUILLERMUS. M. and the couple represented by these arms is undoubtedly Guillaume II Molé and his wife Simone Le Boucherat who married in 1467. The Molés and Boucherats were two of the most eminent families of Troyes at this date. Guillaume was the son of another Guillaume, who died in 1459, and his wife Jeanne Lésguisey. Jeanne's earlier marriage had provided a half-brother for Guillaume II, Guyot II Le Peley. It was for this bourgeois of Troyes that the illuminator of the present armorial miniature painted a copy of Pierre Michault's Le Doctrinal rural and La danse aux aveugles (Paris, BnF, fr.1654) after which he has been named the Master of the Michault of Guyot Le Peley: F. Avril and N. Reynaud, Les Manuscrits à peintures en France 1440-1520 (1993), pp.186-187. For the same patron he added a miniature, of the owner and his family before St Nicholas, to another Troyes-produced Book of Hours dating from the early years of the 15th century (Paris, S.M.A.F., Ms 79-5).
A whole series of manuscripts associable with Troyes has been identified as the work of this illuminator and they include several destined for relatives of Le Peley, including his daughter Jeanne who was married to Edme le Boucherat, first mayor of Troyes, and Le Peley's other half-brother, Jean Molé, seigneur de Villy-le-Maréchal, the younger brother of Guillaume II. The Le Peley and Molé families were clearly active bibliophiles and, in this context, the most interesting among the other manuscripts illustrated by this illuminator is another copy of Michault's Doctrinal (St Petersburg, Bib. nat., Ms Fr.F.v.XIV). It was written in 1476 by a certain Guillaume Molé, presumably the owner of the present manuscript. Of the manuscripts produced for members of the Molé family in the workshops of other illuminators at least one, a copy of the Passion de Nostre Seigner illuminated by Guillaume Lambert (Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms 25) was certainly also made for Guillaume II and Simone Le Boucherat.
3. Lignage or Linage family of Champagne: notes recording the marriages, births and deaths of members of the family on ff.i-ii verso. They begin with the marriage of Pierre Lignage and Blanche Debar on 7 August 1606 in the church of the Trinity and continue with the births of their children from Blanche in 1608 to Charles in 1620. The manuscript appears to have passed to Blanche following her father's death in 1622 and her grandmother's death in 1624, and the notice of the latter's death is recorded in the same hand as those of Blanche's marriage to Pierre Chastillon in 1626, and the births of their children from Claude in 1628 to Magdalene in 1637.
4. Horguelin family: notes on f.ii verso and f.iii verso indicate that before the death of Blanche in 1658 the manuscript passed to her surviving daughter Louise, who had married Edme Horguelin in 1653. Blanche was godmother to their son Edme in 1656 and the births of their other children, from Louise in 1657 to Joseph in 1668 are recorded on f.iii verso. The manuscript apparently remained in the possession of Louise's family and the latest entry notifies her death in April 1702.
5. Monsieur de Corvisier: a note dated 21 January 1727, at the end of the manuscript (f.174v), records his gift of the manuscript on that date on condition that it should be returned to him after the death of the recipient.
6. Marie Madelaine Morel: her signature recording her receipt of the book and having ordered its return on her death
7. Parke-Bernet Galleries, 5 and 6 December 1949, lot 396
8. McKell Collection: cited but not discussed by M. Meiss French Painting in the Time of Jean de Berry: The Limbourgs and their Contemporaries (1974), p.402
Lignage family records ff.i-ii verso; armorial miniature f.iii; Horguelin family records f.iii verso; Calendar ff.1-11v; Gospel Extracts ff.12-19; Short Hours of the Cross ff.20-23v; Short Hours of the Holy Spirit ff.24-27v; Office of the Virgin use of Troyes ff.28-80v: matins f.28, lauds f.39, prime f.51 (lacking opening), terce f.56v, sext f.61, none f.65, vespers f.69v, compline f.76; Seven Penitential Psalms ff.81-93v; Litany ff.93v-98v; Obsecro te... ff.99-102; O Intemerata... ff.102-104v; Suffrages to Saints ff.104v-106v: Peter and Paul f.104v, Andrew f.105, John the Evangelist f.105v, Nicolas f.105v, Katherine f.106, Trinity f.107v, Michael Archangel f.109, Christopher (lacking opening) f.112, Sebastian f.113, Katherine f.115, Margaret f.118, Antony Abbot f.119; Passion according to John ff.120-122; Prayers to be said on seeing the Host at Mass, opening Domine ihesu xpiste qui hanc sacratissimam carnem... ff.122v-123v; Office of the Dead use of Troyes (lacking opening) ff.124-166; Fifteen Joys of the Virgin ff.166v-171v; Seven Requests ff.172-174v
The arresting and elegant illumination of this manuscript is the work of the Master of the Rohan Hours. He is recognised as one of the foremost artists working in France in the first quarter of the 15th century yet, notwithstanding contact with his great contemporaries, he retained an indivuality of approach and vision that was entirely divorced from theirs. While the Boucicaut Master and the de Limbourgs sought to evoke and describe the appearance of the natural world in their portrayal of sacred history, the Rohan Master turned his back on these concerns; instead of aiming for the representation of reality he turned to abstraction and dynamic design in order to achieve an expressive and dramatic portrayal of his spiritual and religious subject matter. This is wonderfully exemplified in the pages of the Molé-Boucherat Hours. Rather than creating a sense of depth or recession through linear or atmospheric persective the Rohan Master treats the picture field as an area of flat but visually exciting linear pattern. Contours, applied gold decoration and even shading on drapery is used more in the interests of pattern and striking design than to describe texture or the fall of light. Many miniatures have minutely patterned diapered grounds but the others are no more realistic; the area of sky is shown as an unmodulated expanse of red or blue with golden rays or scudding clouds of gold or silver, but even these are irregularly placed and unaligned to give a sense of movement or instability. Colour too is deliberately restricted and a rather archaising palette, broadly restricted to the shades that were prevalent in 13th-century illumination, dominates. The attenuation of form, use of gesture and placing of figures all serve to emphasise the drama and emotion: arriving angels and moving figures extend beyond the miniature field and the scale of one figure to another has nothing to do with their position in space but to their relative devotional or spiritual status.
The illuminator of the Molé-Boucherat Hours is named after the manuscript in Paris known as the Grandes Heures de Rohan (BnF, Ms lat.9471); one of the most remarkable of all Books of Hours, described by Emile Mâle after its first public exhibition in 1904 as 'one of the most surprising masterpieces of French art'. Although the exceptional quality of the Rohan Hours has always been uncontested, the course of the illuminator's career and the extent of his oeuvre has been the subject of widely divergent opinion. It now seems most likely that the Rohan Hours was among his latest work and that it, an Hours of René d'Anjou (Paris, BnF, Ms lat.1156A) and the Hours of Isabella Stuart (Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, Ms 62), were illuminated for members of the house of Anjou during the 1430s. If the Rohan Master's career ended in Angers it seems to have begun in Troyes, for the earliest miniatures recognisably by him are in manuscripts for the liturgical use of that city. From subsequent collaboration with Parisian illuminators it is thought that around 1415-20 the Master left Champagne and became established in Paris, although he continued to paint Books of Hours for the use of Troyes: Avril and Reynaud, Les Manuscrits..., pp.25-26.
It seems likely to have been relatively early during this Parisian stay that the present manuscript was produced; the compositions show little sign of the influence of the Boucicaut Master -- simply the setting of the Annunciation. Other manuscripts reveal greater, if reinterpreted, borrowing, that is regarded as the result of direct contact made in the capital. Furthermore, some features of the layout of the Molé-Boucherat Hours look as though they may be an early exploration away from tradition toward fully exploiting the possiblities of the area available for illumination; an interest that culminates in the Rohan Hours in the largest miniatures filling the entire surface of the leaf except for a short incipit pushed to the lower edge. In the Molé-Boucherat Hours the tagging of the zodiac signs and labours of the months onto the bar borders of the Calendar seems a preliminary step towards the extensive extra cycles of scenes similarly hitched to borders in the margins of the later manuscripts. But the most imaginative and fantastic example of the Master's readiness to experiment is in the wild and, as far as we have been able to establish, unprecedented arrangement of the bar borders of many of the miniature pages; no longer restrained surrounds to image and text, they are treated as though jointed, and laid in rakish angles across the sprays of golden trefoils. If this is a unique treatment, every aspect of the miniatures themselves establishes that they are the work of the finest illuminator of the Rohan Hours. NO OTHER MANUSCRIPT BY THE ROHAN MASTER HAS BEEN OFFERED AT AUCTION FOR MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY.
The subjects of the large miniatures are as follows:
f.iii armorial bearings of Guillaume II Molé and his wife Simone Le Boucherat, painted by the Master of the Michault of Guyot Le Peley
f.12 St John on Patmos with his eagle and looking up at two angels flanking a flaming star
f.14 St Matthew writing
f.16 St Mark writing
f.18 St Luke writing
f.20 Christ on the Cross with the Virgin collapsed and supported by the Evangelist in the left foreground and two Roman soldiers on the right
f.24 Pentecost with the Apostles kneeling and looking up at the Dove of the Holy Spirit
f.28 Annunciation within an elaborate gothic chapel
f.56v Annunciation to the Shepherds
f.61 Adoration of the Magi
f.65 Presentation in the Temple
f.69v Flight into Egypt with the Holy Family accompanied by three angels
f.76 Coronation of the Virgin, with the crowned Virgin kneeling before the enthroned Christ his hand raised in blessing
f.81 Christ in Judgement enrobed and seated on a green rainbow
f.109 St Michael conquering Lucifer
f.113 St Sebastian
f.115 St Katherine
f.118 St Margaret
f.119 St Antony Abbot
f.167v Virgo lactans in half-length flanked by two angels
f.172 Last Judgement with Christ on a green rainbow displaying his wounds, the Virgin and John the Baptist in the foreground, the dead rising from their graves
The Calendar miniatures are as follows: Feasting f.1, Aquarius f.1v, Warming before the fire f.2, Pisces f.2v, Pruning f.3, Aries f.3v, Hawking f.4, Taurus f.4v, Maying (carrying a tree) f.5, Gemini f.5v, Scything f.5bis, Cancer f.5bis verso, Haymaking f.6, Leo f.6v, Flailing f.7, Virgo f.7v, Grape harvesting f.8, Libra f.8v, Sowing f.9, Scorpio f.9v, Hog feeding f.10, Sagittarius f.10v, Hog slaying f.11, Capricorn f.11v