GENEALOGICAL AND CHRONICLE ROLL, in French, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[northern France ca.1470-75]
63 x 1737cm approximately. 20 membranes, from two to five columns of text written in a bâtarde hand on a ruling of two columns subdivided as required, lines of descent and name roundels in red, paragraph marks and four-line initials of burnished gold with grounds and infills of dark pink with white penwork decoration, eight-line opening initial of blue with monochrome decoration against a ground of burnished gold with ivy-leaf rinceaux of pink and blue, opening bar border made up of sprays of gold trefoils on hairline stems, acanthus and fruit and flowers, SIXTY-NINE ROUNDELS WITH MINIATURES, these roundels 80-90mm in diameter with a cusped outline in black (first and last membranes creased and backed, final membrane stained, some thumbing and creasing to edges, loss of pigment to faces in some miniatures). Mahogany rollers and box.
The roll opens Sy sensuit la genealogie de la bible qui monstre et dit combien chascun aage a dure de puis le commencement du monde jusques a l'advenement ihesus..., but this is by no means the entire scope of the history that unfurls. As well as encompassing man's history from the Creation according to Old Testament sources, once Gideon has been reached, the history of Troy and its descendants is included alongside: as the sons of Noah dispersed after the flood to inhabit different lands and found different races, so the Trojans fled from their burning city to people and name different lands - Cest a dire peuplerent romme, lombardie, france et angleterre. At its most expansive the roll has five lines of descent side by side, tracing the history and descent of the Popes, the Holy Roman Emperors, the Kings of England, of France and of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.
THIS IS A MOST IMPRESSIVE MANUSCRIPT, THE LARGEST AND PROBABLY THE MOST FULLY ILLUSTRATED COPY OF THIS TEXT.
Other versions survive, showing that it was a composition that was repeatedly updated to provide a pedigree for the current King of France. For example the introduction to the manuscript in Paris (Bib. Nat. MS fr.61) that ends with Charles VII (d.1463) declares the scope of the work to continue until 1375 and Charles V. The copyist obviously overlooked this anachronism.
Three other Chronicle rolls are more closely related to the present manuscript and seem to be slightly earlier copies of the same version: New York Public Library MS 124 (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Secular Spirit: Life and Art at the end of the Middle Ages, 1975, p.166), Cambridge, Mass., Houghton Library bMS Typ 41 (Roger Wieck, Late Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts 1350-1525 in the Houghton Library, Cambridge, Mass. 1983, pp.22-23), and one in the London Borough of Croydon Archive Services. All three of them, like the present roll, continue to include Louis XI as the final monarch. The Houghton Library and Croydon copies have miniatures on only the first membrane; it has been suggested that the more fully illuminated version in New York was made for Louis XI himself. It seems likely that the present manuscript too was commissioned either by Louis or someone closely associated with him.
Unlike the copies in America and Croydon, the introductory section of this roll describes the sequence of the Kings of France as continuing up to 1457 - presumably the date of composition of the version of the genealogy from which the present roll was copied. Genealogical rolls such as this were physical demonstrations of the right to rule and emphasized the authority of the monarch; their production often seems to have had some propaganda purpose. In 1457 Charles VII was king, and Louis - after years of open revolt against his father - had taken refuge with Philip the Good of Burgundy, Charles's most formidable enemy. Perhaps Charles had felt the need for documentary support and had a copy of this chronicle made showing the history of the world leading up to his rule.
In the present manuscript it is his son Louis XI who is shown as the culmination of the direct line from Clovis, through Charlemagne and Saint Louis; all of them are portrayed throned or crowned. From the naming of Louis XI's children, including the dauphin Charles, the present manuscript can be dated after 1470. Through much of his reign Louis' position was threatened by his brother Charles, by the Duke of Burgundy and the English, as well as the nobility of France. At the end of this roll, Louis stands alone, his entitlement to rule contrasted with that of his warring contemporaries in England. The descent of the Kings of England stops with a fulsome account of the reign of Richard II - en bonne prosperite par lespace de vint et deux ans sans contredit - and the censure of Henry IV for usurping him in 1400 - Et apres ce fut fait par trahison et mis en prison fermee. Et fut henry de lenchastre couronne Roy dangleterre le quel a fait mourit des plus nobles du Royaume dangleterre. This is a clear exposition of Louis' just title to the French crown and of the illegality of any claim from an English king to regain the Plantagenet lands.
In addition to the highly decorative illuminated initials that mark each section and paragraph of the text this copy of the Genealogie is exceptionally fully illustrated. The sixty-nine roundels contain attractive and carefully painted scenes. The rulers, popes and emperors, suitably crowned and robed, are usually represented standing in a landscape; sometimes they are shown throned and in imposing surroundings. The scenes from history or legend include battles, building, creation and destruction; the overall impression is one of a lively and decorative variety. The style of painting is consistent with the manuscript having been produced in northern France.
The subjects of the miniatures are as follows:
Creation of the moon and stars: Creation of grass and trees: Creation of fish: Creation of birds and bees: God creating angels: Fall of the rebel angels: Creation of Eve: Adam and Eve with the serpent in the Garden of Eden: God forbidding Adam and Eve to eat the apple: Expulsion from Paradise: Adam planting a branch from the apple tree: Adam digging: Noah building the Ark: Abraham sacrificing Isaac: Nembroth building the tower of Babylon: Joshua, disciple of Moses: David crowned King of Israel: Destruction of Troy: Four roundels each with a ship containing a warrior fleeing from Troy - Aeneas, Priam, Turtus and Helenus: Destruction of Samaria: Founding the city of Tours: Destruction of Jerusalem and the citizens led away: Nebuchadnezar being cut into 300 pieces and fed to birds: Trojans building the city of Sicambre: Remus supervising the building of Rome: Cyrus King of Persia and Darius King of the Medes taking Babylon: Trojans building Hutesse: The Rape of the Sabine women: Ahasuerus King of Persia exiling Vasti: The poisoning of Alexander, the newly crowned emperor: Judas Maccabeus: Nativity: Crucifixion with the Virgin and John the Evangelist: Murder of Julius Caesar: Christ as the first Pope: the new Troy - London, England: French leaving the city of Sicambre: Bricie, first Christian King of Great Britain: French killing the Romans in battle: Conan, King of Brittany: Pharamond, first King of France: Baptism of Clovis: Anglist of Britanny: Dagobert: King Arthur and Mordred in battle: England as a walled town with turreted city gates: Pepin: St Charlemagne as King: Pope Gregory the Great: William the Conqueror: Hugh Capet: St Charlemagne as emperor: Godefroy de Bouillon on board a ship to conquer the Holy land: Godefroy de Bouillon, King of Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem: St Louis: Emperor Berengarius I: Philippe de Valois VI: Edward III: Jean le Bon: Charles V: Charles VI: Charles VII: Louis XI