BOETHIUS (c.480-524), De consolatione philosophiae, in the French translation of Jean de Meun (c.1250-1305); JEAN DE MEUN, Le testament, in French, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM.
[Paris, c.1330]232 x 154 mm. 120 leaves: 1-88, 95(of 6 lacking vi), 10-128, 136, 14-158, 165(of 8 lacking vi-viii), 30 lines written in brown ink in a gothic bookhand between 31 horizontals and, for ff.1-97 four verticals for two columns, justification: 170 x 47-11-47 mm; for ff.98-120 two verticals for single column, triple-ruled to left for initial of each line of verse, double ruled to right, justification: 170 x 104mm, rubrics in red, paragraph marks in red and blue, one-line initials alternately in red and blue opening each verse ff.98-120, two-line initials in burnished gold on grounds of blue and pink patterned with white each with two ink lines extending into the margin with vineleaf terminals, six large initials on burnished gold grounds with foliate infills, two leading to bars with vineleaf terminals, one historiated initial with bar, ONE SMALL AND TWO LARGE MINIATURES in burnished gold frames linked to vineleaves in the margins (miniatures and historiated initial rubbed, pink staining to f.4, wear and slight staining to some margins). Later 15th-century gold-coloured velvet over boards, with two of original metal attachments remaining on each of upper and lower covers, marks of attachments for strap on upper cover and for label and pin on lower cover (lacking three metal attachments from upper cover and two from lower, where the strap would have provided the cental ornament to match the upper cover's central attachment, spine defective, upper cover split at joints and hinges, velvet split along lower edges and generally worn, some worming).
A MANUSCRIPT BOUND FOR LOUIS DE GRUUTHUSE
1. The book was handsomely written and decorated early in the fourteenth century, probably in Paris, for an unknown patron.
2. Louis of Gruuthuse (c.1425-1492): his coat of arms, quarterly, 1 and 4 argent a cross sable, 2 and 3 gules a saltire argent, within the chain of the Order of the Golden Fleece, have been added on f.1; Louis became a Knight of the Golden Fleece in 1461. The binding, with its green and red headband stitching typical of later 15th-century Bruges, was probably executed for him, since it shows striking similarities with that which he had made for another earlier manuscript from his collection, still with its clasps enamelled with his arms, Brussels, KBR, Ms II 280. Louis of Gruuthuse was perhaps the greatest bibliophile in the Burgundian Netherlands outside the ducal family. He owned at least three other copies of the Consolation of Philosophy: the version in French verse by Renaut de Louhans, another earlier manuscript (Paris, BnF, Ms fr. 812), and two contemporary codices, one in Latin and French (BnF, Ms fr. 575) and one in Latin and Dutch (BnF, Ms néerl. 1). His interest in the text was clearly real, since the Dutch version was the last book he commissioned; it was left unfinished at his death.
The Bibliothèque nationale de France now houses the overwhelming bulk of his collection, some 155 items from a total of about 180, since it passed by unrecorded means to Louis XII, who had all the Gruuthuse shields overpainted with the French royal arms. This gives an additional appeal to those manuscripts, like KBR Ms II 280 and the present lot, that somehow escaped this fate and retained the Gruuthuse arms. This copy of Boethius was not known to earlier students of the Gruuthuse library: it was first published as a Gruuthuse manuscript in the lists compiled for M. Martens ed., Lodewijk van Gruuthuse, 1992, pp.198-199. Only two other certain Gruuthuse manuscripts are known to be in private hands: the Gillion de Trazegnies at Chatsworth, Ms 65, and the Vie et passion de Jésus Christ, sold at Sotheby's, 6 December 2001, lot 67, when it was said 'It is almost inconceivable that any book with the arms of Gruuthuse will ever again come on the market'.
3. There are various marks and annotations, in French, inside the upper cover.
4. Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1972): his number 12222 inside upper cover and on label on spine; acquired from William Andrews of Bristol. British Library, Loan 36/26.
Boethius, De consolatione philosophiae in the French prose translation of Jean de Meun, ff.1-97v: headed 'Ci comence Boeces de consolation et fontaine de philosophie translate de latin en francois par mestre jehan de meum [sic]', translator's prologue opening 'A ta royale majeste tres noble prince...', f.1; text opening 'Hilas je qui jadis parfis jolies chanconetes...., f.5, and ending '...devant les yex du iuge qui toutes choses voie. Explicit Boece de consolation. Qui scripsit scribat/semper cum domino vivat', f.97v.
Jean de Meun, Le testament, ff.98-120v: opening 'Li peris et li filz et li sains esperis...', and breaking at 'Non du mer dont elle ist toute mauvaistie oste'.
Jean de Meun is best known for his continuation of the Roman de la Rose, the most famous love poem of the Middle Ages, composed in the 1270s, see lots 23 and 31. There he commented on how valuable Boethius's De consolatione would be to the laity if it were translated. Apparently unaware of earlier French translations, he made his own c.1300, which he dedicated to Philip IV. There is a modern edition by V. Dedeck-Héry in Mediaeval Studies 14, 1952, pp.165-275; this manuscript is not among the 17 known to him, 'The manuscripts of the translation of Boethius's De consolatione by Jean de Meung', Speculum, 1940, pp.432-43.
Le Testament, datable after 1291, proved very popular. The two texts were rarely coupled -- another 14th-century example is in Amiens, Bibl. mun. 412, since they are not directly related in theme. Philosophy consoled the imprisoned Boethius by reminding him that the source of true happiness does not lie in material things or external circumstances, a reassuring message which retained its appeal into the modern era. In Le Testament, Jean de Meun employed quatrains with a single rhyme to criticise aspects of contemporary life, finding chief fault with women and friars, so that it frequently followed the Roman de la rose, in which he expressed similarly anti-feminine views, see lot 31. The first 1,380 lines remain in this mansucript, which is not among the 116 copies listed by S. Buzzetti Gallarati, 'Nota bibliografia sulla tradizione manoscritta del Testament di Jean de Meun', Revue Romane, XIII, 1978, pp.2-35; the same author published a modern edition, Le Testament de Jean de Meun, 1989.
The miniatures are in the distinctive style associated with Richard de Montbaston, documented as an illuminator in Paris from 1338 until his death in 1353, when his illuminator wife, Jeanne, took over the business. The Montbastons specialised in vernacular texts and were much in demand from the King downwards: over fifty manuscripts have been attributed to them, dating from the 1320s to the 1350s. Although they contributed to nineteen copies of the Roman de la rose, this is the only copy of Jean de Meun's translation of Boethius to be attributed to them. The miniatures seem definitely by the hand identified as Richard's, through his 'signed' Legende dorée manuscript of 1348, Paris, BnF, Ms fr.241, since the figures have his characteristic indented noses, as well as the shorthand delineations of eyes and mouths that he shared with his wife. The simple modelling of the drapery by ink lines, usually a characteristic of Jeanne's work, suggests that these miniatures may date from early in Richard's career. For the couple, see R. and M. Rouse, Manuscripts and their Makers: Commercial Book Producers in Medieval Paris 1200-1500, 2000, esp. I, pp.35-60.
An intriguing aspect of this manuscript is the appearance of what were originally instructions to illuminators as formal headings before the second and third miniatures. For the third miniature the instruction is carried out exactly: '.i. homme gisant en .i. lit et une fame en estant seur son chef tenant .i. ceptre en sa main senestre et en la destre main .i. livre es doit estre la dame haute et grant et de viel aage une couronne en son chief et doit parler a boece. et doivent estre au pie du lit .iii. jones fames pecheresses en leur estant'. The aged lady, Philosophy, has her head covered becomingly; the three sinful young ladies wear more body-hugging robes and fetching green bonnets. Their presence is explained on f.5: they are the muses, whom Philosophy banishes from Boethius's bedside as 'communes putereles', because they poison the soul instead of healing it. The first miniature of Jean presenting his book to the crowned Philip IV is a direct illustration of the dedicatory prologue, which would have required little explanation or instruction.
Boethius's text was divided into five books but the divisions are a little confused in this copy. Each, except for Book V, starts with a large gold-ground initial but there is an additional break in Book III, at f.46, with a repeated rubric for Book III and large initial; Book IV is correctly headed, f.60, but Book V opens with a one-line initial and no rubric. The scribe, who signed off with a well-known couplet prayer, was presumably following his exemplar when he left spaces for large initials and rubrics.
Le Testament is also very directly illustrated by its historiated initial of the Trinity, with Christ on the Cross, whose aid the poet invokes in the opening lines. Each quatrain is then marked by a red or blue initial. At least one of the copies of the Roman de la rose illuminated by Richard de Montbaston included Le Testament, Chantilly, Musée Condé, Ms 655.
The subjects of the miniatures are as follows: Jean de Meun presents his translation to Philippe IV, f.1; a doctor examining a urine glass, f.4v; Philosophy and three muses at Boethius's bedside, f.5.
The subject of the historiated initial is the Trinity, f.98.