GUY DE FONTENAY (c.1486-post 1550), Traité des quatre vertus principales dites cardinales précédé d'un discours sur la vertu, in French and Latin, DECORATED MANUSCRIPT ON PAPER
[Berry, early 1550s]
328 x 236mm. 103 leaves, mostly of 23 lines written in brown ink in a cursive hand between two horizontals and two verticals ruled in brown, justification: 216 x 141mm, running titles, side headings, capitals touched red, paragraph marks in red, TWO FULL-PAGE COATS OF ARMS, FOURTEEN FULL-PAGE MINIATURES (spreading of red, some wear to miniatures). Vellum over pasteboard, reused document with remains of seal on upper cover (spotted, scuffed).
A PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN WORK BY THE POET AND HUMANIST GUY DE FONTENAY
1. Guy de Fontenay, archdeacon and canon of Nevers Cathedral, completed the work at his family's château of the Tour de Vesvre, near Sancerre, 15 October 1550 (ff.2, 6). If not the original volume given to the dedicatee, Marguerite de Bourbon, duchesse de Nevers (1516-1589), this copy seems at the least to have been owned by a member of the Bourbon affinity. The deliberate damage to the figure of the jurist, Jean du Tillet (f.63), is presumably the result of his prominent support of the Guise against the Bourbon: he voted for the death penalty for Louis I de Condé in 1560. It is not clear when the four poems praising de Fontenay were written in a different script at the end of the volume, ff.101-102; a verso and recto remain blank before the concluding miniature on f.103v. They come from his immediate circle: the poem of Guillaume Rapine, governor of the Nivernais since 1535, was prompted by this work; one of the two poems by his nephew, Jean de Marrafin, seigneur de Guerchy, the son of his sister Emée and Jean de Marrafin, seigneur de Viel-Moulin, was written to accompany a copy of the work sent to his cousin, Madame de Rezay.
Guy de Fontenay, Traité des quatre vertus principales ff.2-79: title f.2; Latin poem on Virtus with French prose translation f.2v; dedication to Marguerite de Bourbon, duchesse de Nevers (1516-1589) f.5-6; treatise on virtue, with prefatory matter including dedicatory poem to Henry II (1519-1559), pronounced by the paranymphe de vertu, Bordilon, Imbert de la Platière, dit Bourdillon, marshal of France, and grandson of Guy de Fontenay's aunt, Marie de Fontenay ff.9-31; Prudence, opening with a Latin poem and dedicatory French verse to Antoine de Bourbon, duc de Vendôme (1518-1562), brother of the duchesse de Nevers, presented by Ligny, the paranymphe de prudence, possibly the author Cesar de Ligny ff. 32-50v; Fortitude, opening with a Latin poem and dedicatory French verse to Francois de Clèves, duc de Nevers (1516-1568), married to Marguerite de Bourbon since 1538, spoken by Gyry, paranymphe de force, ff.53-65v; Temperance, opening with a Latin poem and a dedicatory French verse to Anne de Montmorency, constable of France (1493-1567), spoken by paranymphe de vertu, La Roche Posay, presumably Jean de Chasteignier, siegneur de la Roche Posay (c.1490-1567), one of the chief financial officials of the crown ff.69-81v; Justice, opening with a Latin poem and a dedicatory French verse to the Parlement de Paris, spoken by the paranymphe de vertu, the jurist Jean du Tillet (d.1587) ff.83-100v; laudatory poems to Guy de Fontenay by Hector de Villepleine, Jean de Marrafin and Guillaume Rapine ff.101-102.
Guy de Fontenay was the seventeenth child of Guillaume, a younger son of Guy, baron de Fontenay, who received the Tour de Vesvres as his share of the family lands. The author Guy's title of seigneur de St-Aubin came from his mother Philiberte de Digoine. Like others of his family Guy relied on the church, and particularly the Cathedral of Nevers, for his income: his uncle Pierre de Fontenay was Bishop of Nevers from 1461-1499. Here, in the dedication to Marguerite de Bourbon, it is his most famous literary relation who is invoked: the poet Octavien de St-Gelais, bishop of Angoulême 1494-1502, the son of his aunt Philiberte de Fontenay and Pierre de St-Gelais, seigneur de Montlieu.
Although his more substantial published works were prose compilations from authors of antiquity, Guy de Fontenay was also a poet. Hector de Villepleine's verse in the present volume says that he Tous genres de vers praticque/Les mesurant par art certain and he clearly prided himself on his technical skill, explaining before each dedicatory poem, the metre and mode in which it is written. His classicising pretensions required him to explain composing in French, which he justified by the example of his cousin, by the need to counteract the immoral literature available in the vernacular and his desire to instruct the Nevers children.
Some of the miniatures are on unruled folios and some or all may be on inserted leaves. The work was, however, clearly intended to be illustrated from the beginning, since the opening poem on Virtue specifically explains the accompanying illustration. For each individual virtue there is a picture of its paranymphe declaiming before the dedicatee and a personification of the virtue, as well as one or possibly two examples, mostly drawn from antiquity, of the virtue in action. The miniatures are boldly delineated colour-washed drawings, where the long established and popular theme of the personified virtues is given a contemporary relevance by the dedicatees and paranymphes, although all appear in classicising costume. The Italianate style of the First School of Fontainebleau had rapidly spread, partly through prints, a possible source of the strapwork framing with nudes around the arms of Marguerite de Bourbon.
The subjects of the miniatures are as follows: the de Fontenay coat of arms f.1; three-visaged Virtue trampling on a skeletal figure of Death, her attributes explained in the accompanying poem f.3; the arms of Marguerite de Bourbon f.4; the army of Virtues, led by Henry II, Anthoine de Bourbon, Francois de Clèves and Anne de Montmorency, defeats grey figures of the Vices f.7; Bourdillon declaims before Henry II surrounded by personifications of Temperance, Prudence, Justice and Fortitude f.8; Henry II siezes Occasion by the forelock, while Charles V imprudently lets her escape f.33; Ligny addresses Prudence, holding spectacles, and Anthoine de Bourbon f.34; Anaxararchus tormented by order of Nicocreon f.51v; Francois de Clèves between Fortitude with column and Gyry f.52; the Nymphs and the Graces f.66; de Chasteignier addresses Anne de Montmorency and Temperance with her clock f.67; Sophrosyne and Thyas tempering wine with water f.68; Roman Charity f.82; Sisamnes flayed body laid out before his judge's seat over which his skin is fastened f.82v; a notional view of the Paris Parlement with Justice and the damaged figure of du Tillet f.84; a herald pointing to a tree of empty shields, representing the signs of virute f.103v.