Histoire Ancienne, in French, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[perhaps Brittany], 1474
345 x 250mm. 376 leaves: 1-478, COMPLETE, catchwords along the inner ruled vertical in the lower margin of final versos, modern pencilled foliation missing a folio between 136 and 137 and skipping from 151 to 153, and from 365-367, two columns of 41 lines in brown ink in a cursive bookhand between four verticals and 42 horizontals ruled in pink, justification: 250 x 168mm, rubrics in red, text capitals touched yellow, paragraph marks and line-endings in red or blue, two-line initials alternately of blue or red, guide letters often remaining, THIRTY-THREE HISTORIATED INITIALS with single burnished gold bars and partial borders of hairline tendrils with terminals of leaves and disks in burnished gold and painted leaves and flowers between larger sprays of painted fruit and flowers, the initials of 4-9 lines in height with staves usually of gold on grounds of pink and blue patterned with white, THIRTY-FOUR SMALL MINIATURES framed in liquid gold or pink-red with single burnished gold bars and partial borders, mostly placed outside the text block in the lower margins, ONE LARGE ARCH-TOPPED MINIATURE IN SIX COMPARTMENTS divided and framed in burnished gold with FULL-PAGE ARMORIAL BORDER and historiated initial (opening folios, including large miniature rubbed, slight flaking in a few miniatures, lower corners missing ff.2-5). 18th-century brown calf gilt.
1. Tanneguy du Chastel (d.1477) and his wife Jeanne Ragusnel de Malestroit: on f.1 his arms are in the centre of the border and hers in a lozenge to the right; their initials are intertwined in the side border. The Breton noble, Tanneguy du Chastel, was grand écuyer to both Charles VII and Louis XI. He accumulated a significant library, both by commissioning books, as here, and by exploiting the possibilities offered by royal favour: in 1476 he received many of the books confiscated from Jacques d'Armagnac, duc de Nemours.
2. Library of the château of Anet: seventh manuscript listed in the catalogue drawn up after the death of Anne de Bavière, princesse de Condé as 'orné de miniatures très singulières', Catalogue des manuscrits trouvez après le décès de Madame la Princesse, dans son Château Royal d'Anet, 1723.
3. French label Histoires de la Creation du Monde. M.S. Francais sur velin on spine.
4. William Bragge (1823-1884): his sale, Wellington St, London, 7 June 1876. In Paris since 1872, Bragge returned to Birmingham in 1876 when his French business venture failed (see lot 89).
5. Jonathan Peckover (1835-1882): his armorial bookplate. Jonathan, who died unmarried, was the second son of Algernon Peckover of Wisbech (1803-1893).
6. The Hon. Alexandrina Peckover (1860-1948): pencilled note 'left by her uncle Jonathan Peckover who died Feb 8th 1882'. Alexandrina was the second daughter of Jonathan's elder brother, the noted book collector Alexander, created Lord Peckover of Wisbech in 1907, whose title died with him in 1919. Other manuscripts from Alexandrina's collection were sold by her executors at Sotheby's, 4 April 1949.
7. Alexander Peckover Doyle Penrose (b.1896): armorial bookplate. He was the son of Alexandrina's elder sister Elizabeth and James Doyle Penrose of Watford; Lot 20 in the Peckover Sale, Sotheby's, 3 December 1951.
The Histoire ancienne begins with the Creation and retells Genesis, in Book I, before incorporating Biblical history into narratives of the empires of Babylon, Ninevah, Thebes, Troy, Macedon and Rome, drawn from a variety of sources, in Books II-XI. Its anonymous author, writing in French for the châtelain of Lille between 1208-1213, directly pointed the moral lessons to be drawn from the past by introducing, and then interspersing, his prose narrative with didactic poems. He intended to proceed to the Christian Emperors and bring his history up to the present day but his task was never completed. The history of Rome ends abruptly during Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars as he erects a temple to Jupiter to celebrate his victories. The opening rubric Icy commance le livre de la creacion du monde. Et premierment comment nostre seigneur parla a adam is followed by Quant dieut ot fait le ciel et la terre et les eaues doulces... f.1; the text concludes ...fist Jullius cesar faire et establir le temple iupiter le pere de tous les dieux en qui ilz avoient grant fiance, ff.375v-376. The work proved enormously popular, fuelling and satisfying the burgeoning demand for classical history in the vernacular, and this manuscript can be added to the 70 surviving that preserve the text in whole or part. It was printed in Lyon c.1480; there is no complete modern edition of the work which was of such importance in popularising ancient history and so determining knowledge and interpretation of the classical past (M.-R. Jung, 'La légende de Troie' en France au moyen âge, 1996, pp.334-357).
The text was adapted as other vernacular accounts became available and scribes and patrons selected the parts of greatest appeal. This copy is of considerable interest, given its date, in preserving the original text comparatively intact. As attention focussed on the narrative history, the prologue and 22 chapters in verse, known from early 13th-century copies in Paris (BnF, Ms fr.20125 and Vienna, ÖNB, cod.2576) were rapidly dropped; most unusually, this copy still has some verse commentaries but no prologue. Their continuing relevance is shown by the scribe's interpolations of his own reflections: on f.195v the text refers to le temps ou vous estes maintenant. mil iiijc. lx et. xiiij, showing that it was being copied in 1474.
The original historical narrative was also curtailed to concentrate on secular history as, from the end of the 13th century, it became common to omit the material from Genesis, which was readily available elsewhere. This copy, however, retains Book I and is also unusual in repeating the abruptly interrupted Book XI. From the 14th century, this was standardly replaced by the Livre des faits des romains to continue the history of the Roman Empire to a more logical termination. Indeed, it has even been suggested that the success of the contemporary Livre des faits des romains was what discouraged the author of the Histoire ancienne from completing his massive undertaking. This manuscript can now be added to the six listed by Jung as having Books I-XI without the Livre des faits des romains either present or intended; of these only the copy in the Pierpont Morgan Library, M.212-213 can be dated to the 15th century. It is, therefore, likely that this manuscript was copied from a much earlier exemplar, something also indicated by the miniatures. Its commissioner, Tanneguy du Chastel, also owned a profusely illustrated 14th-century copy, with no verses and Book XI replaced by the the Livre des faits des romains, which may have come from his wife's family (Lot 20, Chester Beatty Sale, Sotheby's 6 June 1932; Cimelia, H.P. Kraus, Catalogue 165, 1983). If Tanneguy already owned the earlier copy by 1474, he may have specifically requested a version that corresponded more closely to the text's original form. Knowledge of antiquity was expected in courtly circles and a history that concentrated so much on warfare and heroic exploits was likely to appeal to one who served two kings as warrior and diplomat; Tanneguy died of wounds received at the siege of Bouchain.
The provincial style of the engaging miniatures perhaps indicates an illuminator active in Brittany where Tanneguy du Chastel was based and where an old fashioned exemplar may have been all that was available. Soldiers are in armour of the thirteenth century, with cylindrical helmets, loose surcoats and chain mail, and even the elephants and castles reflect an earlier iconographic tradition. Since painters usually modernised their patterns, the archaic forms may have been deliberately copied to give an appropriate flavour of the past and of distant, exotic, countries. It would seem that the model did not correspond exactly to the pictures required because a verbal instruction was necessary on f.241, by one of the terrible beasts that beset Alexander's army in India: la figure de la beste. Historiated initials and small miniatures within the text are both found in the early manuscripts; here the original programme of historiated initials, for which the scribe had to leave spaces, was greatly expanded when it was decided to place additional miniatures in the margins. Since initials and miniatures are in the same style, this must have occurred while the illumination was being planned or executed. Small miniatures below the text are more of an Italian than a French convention, although the model here seems to have belonged to the oldest iconographic type, and cannot be identified with any of the surviving Italian manuscripts. The opening compartmentalised miniature of the Creation over an historiated initial of God enthroned derives from the earliest conventions for illustrating the text, as seen in a Parisian copy of the second quarter of the 13th century (Brussels, KBR Ms 18295). Traditional patterns are also followed in such scenes as the death of Hector, f.133v, or Alexander kneeling before the name of God, f.253 (D. Oltrögge, Die Illustrationszyklen zur 'Histoire ancienne jusqu'à César' 1250-1400, 1989).
Despite following a much earlier model, the illuminator displays a very individual style. His vigorous figures are idiosyncratically proportioned to show what was felt necessary to the scene, usually limited to the essential protagonists against formalised settings, where landscapes and interiors are often replaced by patterned backgrounds. The directness of treatment and the attempts to visualise the trappings of the past result in an appealing sequence of miniatures with wide ranging subject matter. Egyptian and Roman chariots, for instance, become carts while soldiers are often armoured knights on horseback. Although fearsome monsters like the Sphinx, the Theban Tiger and the Minotaur, ff.91v, 112, 117v, have lost their awfulness over the centuries, the miniatures strikingly represent the continuum of history as then understood. Text and illustrations together afford direct contact with mediaeval perceptions of the classical heritage and their changing emphases, from c.1210, when the original text was compiled, through its modifications over the centuries until 1474, when this anonymous scribe added his own comments to the extensively illustrated copy commissioned by a leading bibliophile and member of the French court.
The subjects of the miniatures are as follows:
f.1 Large miniature in six compartments: God separates darkness from light; creation of the sun and moon; creation of land and sea; creation of plants; creation of animals, birds and fish; creation of Eve
f.4v The Lord cursing Cain
f.7 Noah and his family look out from the Ark at the birds and animals coming aboard.
f.8v The drunkenness of Noah
f. 10v Shem, Ham and Japheth and their descendants, including the giant Nimrod
f.11 Nimrod supervises the building of the Tower of Babel
f.31 Lot and his family are led by an angel from Sodom, which collapses in flames on the inhabitants
f.45 Jacob receives Isaac's blessing; in the background Esau returns from the hunt
f.57 Esau and Jacob place Isaac in his tomb
f.68v Pharoah dreaming of the lean and fat kine
f.71 Jacob gives his sons money to buy corn in Egypt
f.71v Joseph orders his brethren to fetch Benjamin
f.82 Joseph and his brethren place Jacob in the tomb
f.89v Oedipus hung up by the ankles
f.95v Polynices and Etiocles, as armed knights, fight on horseback
f.112 The 'Tiger' raised by Antigone and Ismene of Thebes
f.119 Queens Marpesia and Lampeto lead the Scythian women to battle
f.119v The Amazons putting men to flight
f.123 Hercules killing Cacus
f.123v Jason and the Argonauts aboard ship
f.133v Achilles kills Hector
f.141 Penthesilea leads her troops, one on a camel, to Troy
f.142 Penthesilea fights Pyrrhus
f.158v Dido kills herself on the towers of Carthage as Aeneas sets sail
f.160v The Minotaur
f.174 Aeneas leads his troops against Turnus
f.209 A city welcomes Holofernes with music and surrenders its keys
f.236 Fortune turning her wheel
f.237 Alexander fights Indian troops in castles on elephants
f.241 A terrible beast with three horns which attacks Alexander's troops
f.250v Alexander and King Porus of India fight on horseback
f.279 The two-headed statue of Janus watches those who bring the arms of the conquered to his temple and those who come to arm themselves from the common store.
f.299 Scipio and Hannibal fight on horseback
f.338v Marius knocks Jugurtha from his horse
f.339 Jugurtha taken captive to Rome in a chariot
The subjects of the historiated initials are as follows:
God seated on the rainbow f.1; Cain killing Abel f.4; the three men, as angels, are welcomed by Abraham f.29; the sacrifice of Abraham f.35v; Joseph and Potiphar's wife f.65v; Pharoah gives Joseph a chariot when he makes him ruler of Egypt f.70; Joseph reveals his identity to his brethren f.77; Jacob rejoices to have news of Joseph f.78; Jacob before Pharoah f.80; King Ninus f.84; King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes f.89v; Oedipus and the Sphinx f.91v; the Minotaur eating one of his victims f.117v; Hercules and Theseus capture the Amazons Menalippa and Hippolyta f.121; Pelleus tells Jason to fetch the Golden Fleece f.123v; Aeneas's ships leave Troy f.149; three men build Rome f.182; Brutus is elected first consul f.188; the infant Cyrus, abandoned to wild beasts, is rescued f.202; Cyrus's son Cambyses becomes king f.208; Judith cuts off the neatly night-capped head of Holofernes f.211v; Nectanebus, Alexander's father according to some, and Olympias, his mother f.229; Alexander kneels before the name of God on the tablet of gold held by the High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem f.235; the beast with two heads f.243v; games held at Tarentum so that the Romans take the city by surprise f.259v; soldiers in castles on elephants arrive to help Tarentum f.260v; Romans and Carthaginians fight on horseback f.264v; Hannibal plans to avenge his father's death f.281v; a writer at his desk f.300v; the Carthaginians deliver up their armour to the Roman ships f.311v; Mithridates receives a Roman messenger 358v; Pompey enters Rome in a chariot f.369v; Roman senators? bearing swords f.370.