GAIUS SUETONIUS TRANQUILLUS (c.70-160), De vita Caesarum: Divus Iulius, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM BY THE SPANISH FORGER
[Paris, early 20th century]
203 x 150mm. 69 folios, APPARENTLY COMPLETE: 1-66, 75(of 6, vi cancelled blank, 84, 92, 10-116, 125(of 6, vi cancelled blank), 135 (of 6, i cancelled blank), 17 lines in brown ink in a neat bookhand, one- and two-line initials in red or blue, TEN INHABITED INITIALS with accompanying border-sprays of black tendrils and gold trefoil terminals, TEN FULL-PAGE MINIATURES WITH FULL BORDERS of blue, gold and red acanthus and naturalistic flowers and similar sprays (some abrasion with small losses of pigment or gold, occasional light surface soiling and fading of ink, all most likely intended). Vellum over wooden boards, tooled in an early style.
De vita Caesarum, Book I: Divus Julius, chapters 1-89.
Seutonius's famous account of the life of Julius Caesar, the first of his twelve biographies of the first emperors of the Roman Empire written in 121 AD. The work includes Caesar's conquests ('Veni vidi vinci' appearing here on f.29v, his capture by pirates in the Mediterranean Sea, the crossing of the Rubicon River and his reforms following the defeat of Pompey. The account includes descriptions of Caesar's physical appearance and ends with an account of his assassination.
THE LIFE OF JULIUS CAESAR -- A COMPLETE MANUSCRIPT BY THE SPANISH FORGER, 'one of the most skillful, successful, and prolific forgers of all time'. His identity unknown, the so-called Spanish Forger was active in painting 'medieval' miniatures in Paris between the 1890s and 1920s (see W. Voelkle, The Spanish Forger, New York, 1978 and Manuscript Illumination in the Modern Age, 2001, pp.157-162). Whilst a large number of miniatures, cuttings and panels have been attributed to him, very few codices are known; to date only ten others have been identified, the present manuscript now becoming M.11 in Voelkle's ongoing census. Of these, only one other (M.5) is classical in subject matter, Juvenal's Satirae (sold Hartung & Hartung, Munich, 2-4 November 2004, lot 13).
The full-page miniatures are appealing examples of the Forger's style and invention; whilst some scenes, such as the assassination of Caesar or the crossing of the Rubicon, illustrate the chapters they open, others do not appear to relate to the accompanying text. No attempt is made to set scenes within their Roman context - they are instead quintessential scenes celebrating an imaginary medieval golden age, created with the familiar figures and poses, dress and stage-like architecture characteristic of the Forger's work.
The fact that the first few chapters of Seutonius's work do not survive presumably meant that the Forger did not feel that his manuscript required an opening miniature.
The subjects of the miniatures are as follows:
f.6v Caesar enthroned (opening chapter 10)
f.12v Caesar and his soldiers attacking a castle (opening chapter 19)
f.18v Battle scene (opening chapter 25)
f.24v Caesar leading his soldiers across the river Rubicon (opening chapter 31)
f.30v Caesar on horseback processioning into castle gateway preceded by trumpet players (opening chapter 39)
f.36v Caesar shown supervising the rebuilding of his villa near the grove of Aricia (opening chapter 46)
f.41v A betrothal (opening chapter 53)
f.47v Caesar shown greeting the arrival of boat (opening chapter 59) f.53v Caesar and soldiers holding pirates captive, with one being crucified, opening chapter 70
f.59v The assassination of Caesar (opening chapter 78)
The inhabited initials are on folios 1 (lion), 7 (dragon), 13 (monkey), 19 (dog), 25 (fox attacking a cockerel), 31 (bird eating a butterfly), 42 (griffon), 48 (peacock), 54 (bird), 60 (centaur).