BOOK OF HOURS, use of Rome, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[southern France, probably Avignon, 1420-1430]
170 x 115mm. 208 leaves: 18, 24, 3-168, 172, 18-278, 282 with traces of alphabetical leaf signatures from 81, modern foliation in pencil followed here, 15 lines in a formal calligraphic gothic liturgical hand in brown ink between two verticals and 16 horizontals ruled in brown, justification: 86 x 53mm, Calendar in brown and red, rubrics in red, versal capitals in alternating burnished gold and blue, three-line illuminated initials in burnished gold on grounds of blue and red with clusters of dew-coated leaves of various colours extending into margins, often with further extensions of ivy-leaf sprays in burnished gold on black hairline tendrils, each page of Calendar with similar three-quarter foliate borders, TWENTY-SEVEN LARGE MINIATURES WITH FULL BORDERS in a variety of colours and designs (lacking one gathering after f.12 and one after f.206, some damp-staining in margins at beginning and end causing some offsetting onto endleaves, light wear and rubbing). 19th-century blind-stamped purple morocco gilt, pink watered silk endleaves, gilt edges, pink silk marker, signed 'P. Serre'. Blue slipcase.
AN EXQUISITE AND BEAUTIFULLY PRESERVED FRENCH BOOK OF HOURS ILLUMINATED BY THE WORKSHOP OF THE MASTER OF THE MURRI MISSAL.
1. The Calendar contains a deleted entry in blue, probably by a different hand: 'Salvator Mundi' (6 August). Traditionally, the dedication to the cathedral of Saint-Sauveur in Aix-en-Provence falls on the 7th -- allowing for scribal error, this could point to use in the region. The style of illumination is attributable to a group of artists operating in the Provence region in the first third of the fifteenth century. The lozenge-shaped arms on f.13 and f.106, party per fess azure and bendy of 6 argent and gules probably belonged to a woman.
2. In Paris in the first half of the 19th century: the purple morocco binding is by P. Serre, documented at St Jacques from 1803-1842.
3. Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968), bought in Paris in February 1924, his W.Mss 86.III, foliation and other pencil inscriptions by Eric Millar; sold Sotheby's, 24 June 1969, lot 63, to Quaritch.
4. H.P. Kraus; Manuscript Treasures, Masterworks of Medieval and Renaissance Painting and Illumination, 1970, p.5, no 31.
5. Helmut Beck (1919-2001): his bookplate numbered '26', and sale, Sotheby's, 16 June 1997, lot 21.
Calendar ff.1-12v; Hours of the Virgin, use of Rome ff.13-97: matins f.13, lauds f.26, prime f.40, terce f.46, sext f.52, none f.58, vespers f.64, compline f.73, variants for days of the week, Office for Advent and other seasons ff.78v-97; Hours of the Cross f.98-111v; Hours of the Holy Spirit f.113-126v; Penitential Psalms ff.127-150v; Office of the Dead, use of Rome, ff.151-204; Obsecro te, lacking end ff.205-206v; Mass of the Blessed Virgin, lacking beginning ff.207-207v.
It was been suggested in the Beck catalogue that a gathering of perhaps 8 leaves is missing after the Calendar, however, the text of both the Calendar and the Hours of the Virgin is complete, and the medieval leaf signatures suggest that no leaves are lacking.
The miniatures in the present manuscript testify to a rich cross-fertilisation of French, Italian, Netherlandish and Germanic influences. Once attributed to a Spanish artist in probable collaboration with a French scribe, the manuscript displays marked compositional similarities to two Books of Hours (Vienna, ÖNB. Cod.s.n.2615 and Zürich, Zentralbibliothek, ms Rheinau 169) and two Missals (Paris, BnF ms lat.878 and Aix, ms 11) which have been stylistically linked by O. Pächt and D. Thoss, Französische Schule, I (Die Illuminierten Handschriften und Inkunabeln der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, I, i), 1974, pp.145-152, to a specific group of artists working in Provence in the first half of the 15th century. The present manuscript has also been explicitly attributed to the Master of the Aix Missal (named 'Murri' after the priest Jacobus Murri by whom it was copied and completed on 30 April 1423), who was thought to be working in Aix-en-Provence in the early 1420s. A recent study by Jean Boyer, 'Nouveaux documents sur l'histoire de la peinture en Provence aux XIV et XV siècles' in Bulletin de la Société de l'histoire et de l'art français, Paris, 2001, pp. 9-24, conclusively shows, however, that the illumination of the Murri Missal of the Bibliothèque Méjanes of Aix was in fact the product of an Avignon workshop in 1428-1429, and it is likely that the Arcana manuscript was also produced in this context.
The luxuriant palette of the miniatures, along with the stylized Italianate figures reminiscent of Savoyard illumination anchor the manuscript to south-eastern France and the region of Provence. The association with the workshop of the Master of the Murri Missal is convincing: both in the Aix Missal and in the Vienna Book of Hours we see similar gothic borders with panels in mock-Kufic script -- an echo of the Muslim occupation of the region -- and a shared palette, with striking contrasts between deep hues in the background and brilliantly stark colours in the foreground. Echoes are also found in the composition of specific scenes: David in prayer (f.127) matches its parallel miniature in the Vienna Hours (f.99) with great precision; the two sailing boats in the background on rolling waves of murky green, the hut and cluster of bright green trees to David's right and the blue rivulet winding its way under a stone bridge. Similar correspondences are also found in the Coronation of the Virgin (f.73 and Cod.s.n.2615, f.91v) and the Crucifixion (f.104 and Aix, ms 11, f.380) and several other scenes. Nonetheless, the elongated forms of the Aix Missal differ from the more compact, square figures in the present manuscript, indicating, perhaps, a different hand.
The rich, idiosyncratic bright foliate borders seem to be peculiar to this particular group of Provençal artists and find no specific parallel elsewhere. Throughout the manuscript these elaborate webs of golden, purple, red, green and blue dew-covered leaves, infilled with gold discs, are inhabited by a variety of creatures: dragons, monkeys and small gold men in bright red pixie hats. The result is a remarkable and intriguing blend of the narrative and decorative traditions present among this group of painters and illuminators from the south of France.
The subjects of the miniatures are as follows: the Annunciation f.13, the Visitation f.26, the Nativity f.40, the Adoration of the Magi f.46, the Flight into Egypt f.52, the Presentation in the Temple f.58, the Dormition of the Virgin f.64, the Coronation of the Virgin f.73, the Arrest of Christ f.98, Christ before Pilate f.100, Christ carrying the cross f.102, the Crucifixion f.104, the Death of Christ on the cross f.106, the Deposition f.108, the Entombment f.110, the Virgin in prayer f.113, Christ among the Apostles f.115, Pentecost f.117, St Peter preaching f.119, God in glory f.121, Christ the Redeemer trampling the devil, witnessed by the Estates of the world f.123, the Last Judgement f.125, David in prayer f.127, Funeral Procession f.151, Funeral Mass f.161, Burial f.190, Virgin and Child f.205.