Philippe Desportes, Prieres du Roy au Saint Esprit, in French, and Penitential Psalms and Litany, in Latin, ILLUMINATED CUT-WORK TEXT
AND ILLUSTRATION ON PAPER AND VELLUM
125 x 85mm. 2 outer vellum leaves and 74 paper leaves, SEVEN ILLUMINATED CUT-WORK IMAGES on the two vellum leaves and five of the paper leaves, ILLUMINATED CUT-WORK TITLE-PAGE, the rectos of the remaining 68 leaves with up to 22 lines of cut-work text in small capitals on ruled lines of liquid gold and within a frame-ruling of blue and liquid gold sometimes extending to page edges, one with an ILLUMINATED CUT-WORK HEADPIECE, one illuminated four-line initial and other two-line cut-work and gilded initials, decorated line-fillers throughout in red, blue and green with liquid gold, interleaved throughout with 76 sheets of dark pink paper (gold borders on the vellum leaves and two lower fleur de lys on first vellum leaf likely retouched, occasional small losses to pigment, a few inconsequential smudges and stains to margins, pink interleavings 19th-century replacements). 19th-century red velvet, textblock with gilt and gauffered edges of the same date (wear to edges of velvet and upper board reattached). 19th-century black straight-grained morocco box, spine gilt.
A ROYAL COMMISSION AND VIRTUOSO DEMONSTRATION WITH TEXT AND IMAGE ENTIRELY EXECUTED IN CUT-WORK TECHNIQUE
THE ORDRE DU SAINT ESPRIT was founded by Letters Patent of Henri III, King of France on the final day of 1578. Its dedication to the Holy Spirit was in commemoration of Henri's election to the crown of Poland and inheritance of the crown of France on successive feasts of Pentecost. His new Order superseded the over-expanded Ordre de St Michel to become the senior order of knighthood in France; its membership was selected by the king himself and restricted to princes, powerful nobles and officials of the first importance who, with the sole exception of the Grand Aumonier of France, were required to prove at least three degrees of nobility. The Order was made up of nine Commandeurs-- four Cardinals, four Prelates and the Grand Almoner of France - and up to 91 Chevaliers all of them under the Chef et Souverain Grand Maître, the King.
One of the religious duties stipulated in the Statutes of the Order was that every day the commanders and knights should say the 'Heures du Saint Esprit, avec les Hymnes & Oraisons qui seront dedans un livre que Nous leur donnerons à leur reception: ou bien les sept Pseaumes Penitentiaux, avec les Oraisons qui seront aussi dans ledit livre'. P. Potier de Courcy, Histoire généalogique et chronologique de la Maison Royale de France; Catalogue de l'Ordre du Saint Esprit, Paris reprint 1968, vol. 9, p.23. The second devotional option - to say the even Penitential Psalms and prayers - exactly corresponds with the content of this book.
Three other cut-work copies of these texts are known and they were first discussed together and identified as made for use by members of the Ordre du Saint Esprit by José Ruysschaert in 1963: 'Les quatre canivets du manuel de prières de l'Ordre du St-Esprit. Philippe Desportes et le Livre d'Heures au XVIe siècle', in Studi di Bibliografia e di Storia in onore di Tammaro de Marinis, pp.61-100. The other three copies are in public collections in Paris (BnF, Ms fr. 24749), Rouen (Bibl. municip. Ms 3032) and the Vatican (BAV, Barberini lat. 369). Of these only the Paris copy has illuminated cut-work images like those in the present book but the text pages of all four correspond so exactly that Ruysschaert believed that the pages were cut simultaneously, one on top of the other. It is clear from the fragmentary watermarks that can be found in the gutters of some leaves, and never continue from one leaf to another, that each leaf is a single sheet. From the small knives, canifs, used to cut out the designs, images or, in this case letters, books or leaves in this technique are called canivets in French.
1. King Louis XIII of France and Navarre (1601-1643). On the title-page the book is identified as the King's Prayers to the Holy Spirit and the corners of the border contain cut-work and painted insignia of the Ordre du Saint Esprit, a Maltese Cross with the Dove of the Holy Spirit in the centre. The following page has a cut-work image of a kneeling king, shown wearing the chain and insignia of the Order, and the border includes the royal sceptre and main de justice and crowns, two of them above the monogram L. The figure is clearly intended as the youthful Louis XIII of France: his features bear a strong resemblance to the portrait of 1616 by Frans Pourbus the Younger (Staatsliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe). Furthermore, the cut-work vellum leaves from the original binding have fleur de lys and monograms in the borders. The latter have been read as the double A of Anne of Austria, Louis's wife from 1615. In fact while some of them are double A, others are pairs of the Greek letter lambda, which Louis used in various forms as a monogram. The book has latterly, on the basis of the misreading of the lambda monogram, been thought to have been made for Anne, but women were not eligible for admittance to the Order and this book is most likely to have been intended for Louis himself. Louis had taken the oath as Grand Master of the Order on 18 October 1610, the day following his coronation.
Leopold Deslisle found a contemporary reference to a book apparently executed in this technique that had been presented to Louis XIII and, knowing of only the Paris copy, he linked it with the payment of 1614 to the Dijon scribe Nicolas Gougenot. The payment was made on behalf of the King in recognition of the scribe's good services and for 'un livre d'enluminure et decoupure' that Gougenot had given to the King, who had placed it in his library. It seems most unlikely that this could refer to four devotional books.
If the payment is discounted, the appearance of the youthful Louis XIII and the inclusion of the monogram of his wife are the best indicators of the date of the illustration of the present copy and the copy in Paris, but the text of all four may have been executed earlier. Fragmentary watermarks found in all the copies, are very close to Briquet 5097 and 1855, produced by the Troyes papermakers Edmond Denise and Guillaume Iournel. Briquet gives dates for the first from 1590 to 1612, and for the second from 1595 to 1603. Henri IV could have had the texts produced as copies for himself and his three sons, all living in 1608, and all as princes of France admitted to the Order on baptism. Whether produced during Henri's reign or a few years later for Louis XIII the known subsequent ownership of all of these copies suggests that they remained in the possession of the royal household.
2. Henrietta Elizabeth, Baroness Delamare of Vale Royal (d.1852). A descriptive note written inside the upper cover by her son Thomas Grenville Cholmondeley (1818-1883) records the gift of the book in 1830 to 'Harriet, Lady Delamare' by George, 2nd Marquess of Cholmondely (1792-1870). The spine of the box has her crowned monogram H.E.D. at the head, note of gift at the foot, titles and the classification 'Liber Vere Unicus' in gilt.
3. Countess Estelle Doheny, purchased A.S.W.Rodenbach, New York 1936; Lot 180 in The Estelle Doheny Collection, these rooms, 2 December 1987.
Prière du roy au Sainct Esprit ff.4-15; Seven Penitential Psalms and prayers, in Latin ff.17-38; Litany and prayers, in Latin ff.40-58; Prière du roy a limitation de celles de David ff.60-70; Pseaume pour le roy, Ps 19 in Latin, followed by a prayer to be said by and for the King of France ff.72-75.
The two texts in French, the King's prayer to the Holy Spirit and the paraphrase of the Psalms as prayers for the king, were composed by Philippe Desportes, favourite poet of Henri III. The earliest extant edition identified by Ruysschaert (pp.76-80) to include them was the 1586 Office de la Vierge printed by Jamet Mettayer in Paris.
Another of Desportes's prayers in this printed Hours, also addressed to the Holy Spirit, was rubric'd to be said by the knights of the Order. If the printed editions were suitable for the chevaliers these cut-work copies seem destined for the King himself: both of the texts in French were composed for Henri III and the final prayer was modified for him, while Louis XIII and his father Henri IV are shown kneeling in prayer before the openings of the final text.
This copy and its sister book in Paris -- also almost certainly made for Louis XIII -- are the most exceptional and ambitious examples of a very rare type. While single leaves with cut-work decoration were produced in increasing mumbers through the 17th to 19th centuries (by which date the technique had become mechanised), relatively few complete codices are known and in most the cut-work is restricted to patterned borders around written text and painted illustration, for example the Prières Chrestiennes sold in 'The History of the Book: The Cornelius J. Hauck Collection', Christie's New York, 28 June 2006, lot 285.
Several of the surviving lace-cut books can be associated with the families of Henri IV and Louis XIII: see for example two books made for Marie de' Medici, the prayerbook in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore (W.494) and the Hours also from the Doheny Collection (1987, lot 179). Yet none compares with the extraordinary achievement of the two Prieres du Roy au Saint Esprit in having the entire text and figurative programme in cut-work.
Whenever the text was produced, it is clear that the illustrations for the Arcana and the Paris copies were made for Louis XIII and, with the exception of the vellum bindings and an additional miniature on vellum in the Paris volume, they are identical. In both the miniatures are painted in gold and colour on the versos while the rectos -- which, like the text, are backed by the pink sides of the interleaving -- are deliniated in pen and black ink, modelled with light brown or grey wash and with details picked out in gold. They are an arresting display of elegance and dexterity.
The subjects of the miniatures are as follows:
A female allegorical figure before an altar makes a burnt offering to God, beneath the legend, 'Placent Pia Superis' (Pious things please those above), original upper cover of vellum binding now bound as endleaf, f.1; title-page with the Dove of the Holy Spirit, badges of the Order and foliate decoration f.2; Louis XIII kneeling in prayer, foliage and royal insignia f.3; headpiece with a lion mask and foliage f.4; King David kneeling in Penitence, his harp beside him and an angel holding arrows and skull above f.16; Crucifixion with angels collecting the blood of Christ f.39; King Louis IX holding a sceptre and main de justice f.59; King Henry IV kneeling in prayer f.71; a female allegorical figure holding a sword and looking up to heaven, under a legend 'Mea Spes In Numine Trino' (My Hope is in the Trinity), original lower cover of vellum binding now bound as endleaf, f.75.