JEAN DE COURCY (fl.1420): La Bouquechardière or Chronique d'histoire ancienne, in French, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
410 x 290mm. 384 leaves: 19, 2-208, 217(of 8, lacking viii), 22-278, 287(of 8, lacking ii), 29-348, 356(of 8, lacking iv and v), 36-438, 447(of 8, lacking i), 45-488, 494(of 8, lacking v-viii including three cancelled blanks), catchwords towards inner lower margin of final versos until gathering 46, intermittent modern pencil foliation inaccurate after f.177 and not followed here, two columns of 52 lines in brown ink in a cursive hand between 53 horizontals and four verticals ruled in dark pink, justification: 276 x 180mm, additional pair of horizontals for unsupplied running titles, rubrics in red, text capitals touched yellow, paragraph marks of burnished gold with grounds and infills of blue and pink with white decoration, two- to five-line initials of burnished gold with grounds of either blue or pink and infills of the other colour both with white frondy decoration, the Prologue and Book I open with large initials of blue on grounds of red with curling fronds in liquid silver or gold, Book II opens with a large initial of blue and white with foliate infill of blue and red on a burnished gold ground, THREE LARGE QUADRIPARTITE MINIATURES ACCOMPANIED BY FULL-PAGE BORDERS with sprays of blue and gold acanthus, naturalistic fruit and flowers and including birds, wild men and grotesques, the first with armorial bearings (lacking four leaves with miniatures, margins of first folios slightly darkened, a few folios with spots or inconsequential stains, damage to edges of lower outer margins of some folios at beginning and end). Old green velvet with two engraved silver fore-edge clasps and catches (joints and lower corners worn). Red morocco-backed box by Zaehnsdorf.
1. Charles de Coëtivy, prince de Mortagne-sur-Gironde and comte de Taillebourg (d.1505): as the only son of Olivier de Coëtivy and Marie, the daughter of Charles VII of France and Agnes Sorel, his coat of arms on f.2 quarters Coëtivy with France moderne differenced with a bendlet argent. Charles de Coëtivy, named for his royal grandfather, married Jeanne d'Angoulême, sister of Charles, comte d'Angoulême, and so aunt of Francis I, who created her duchesse de Valois in 1516. Their only child Louise (d.1553 aged 72) married Charles de la Trémoille, prince de Talmont (d.1515) and left many descendants. Both Olivier de Coëtivy and his elder brother Prigent, admiral of France, commissioned notable books of hours: Olivier's was taken as the name work of the Coëtivy Master (Vienna, ÖNB cod.1929); Prigent's was lavishly illustrated by the Dunois Master (Dublin, Chester Beatty Library). Charles de Coëtivy also owned BnF Ms fr.1191, Discours d'entendement et de raison.
2. Probably Claude de Husson, bishop of Poitiers 1505-1521: the son of Charles, comte de Tonnerre and seigneur de Husson, and Antoinette de la Trémoille, the aunt of Louise de Coëtivy's husband, Claude followed his uncle Jean de la Trémoille in the see of Poitiers. Charles de Coëtivy may have given the book to a member of the de la Trémoille family in connection with his daughter's marriage.
3. Probably Louis de Husson, bishop of Poitiers 1521-32: nephew of his predecessor as bishop, Louis resigned the see to marry after the death of his elder brother Claude at Pavia in 1525. He failed to produce an heir, so that the county of Tonnerre passed to the seigneurs and then comtes de Clermont through the marriage of Anne de Husson and Bernadin de Clermont. Their son Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre had Serlio build the new château of Ancy-le-Franc.
4. Probably Convent of the Minimes of Tonnerre: in 1611 Henri de Clermont-Tonnerre gave inherited manuscripts to the Minimes. In the 1730s the abbé Lebeuf reported that the Minimes had 46 manuscripts, chiefly 15th-century and histories in French, which had belonged to the de Husson bishops of Poitiers and had been kept at Ancy-le-France until the 1611 transfer to the convent; they were covered in velvets of various colours. In 1788 the most valuable were sold by the Minimes to the archbishop of Sens.
5. Probably No 497 in the Biblioteca Parisina sale 1791: James Edwards (1757-1816) included 13 of the Clermont-Tonnerre manuscripts, bought from the archbishop of Sens, in his sale of the library of Pâris de Meyzieu, of which they had never formed a part. All were falsely credited with a provenance from the d'Urfé library at the château de L'Abbatie in Le Forez, founded by Claude d'Urfé (1501-1558), where most of the manuscripts were bound in green velvet. The c.1770 catalogue of the d'Urfé library lists two copies of La Bouquechardière: one, described by Verdier, is certainly now Paris, Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, Ms 369; the other, no 26, was noted as 'not yet found' when the catalogue was published by A. Vernet in the Académie des inscriptions et belles lettres - comptes rendus des séances de l'année 1976, with an account of Edwards' false provenances; this manuscript has none of the usual d'Urfé ownership marks. Van Praet first traced the history of the Clermont-Tonnerre manuscripts and cited Biblioteca Parisina no 497 as a copy comparable with that of Louis of Gruthuuse, BnF, Mss fr.65-66 (Recherches sur Louis de Bruges, 1831, p.210).
6. Cutting from 19th-century English catalogue, no 156, within the manuscript: suggesting a d'Urfé provenance, presumably inspired by the Biblioteca Parisina
7. Librairie de Galignani, Paris: bookplate inside upper cover
8. Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872): his manuscript 24441, where recorded by Durrieu ('Les manuscrits à peintures de la bibliothèque de Sir Thomas Phillipps à Cheltenham', Bibliothèque de l'école des chartes, L, 1889, p.400); purchased by William H. Robinson
The Chronique de la Bouquechardière takes its name from the lordship of Bourg-Achard in Normandy held by its author, Jean de Courcy. This is a misleadingly provincial title for the enormous and ambitious chronicle of ancient history that he began to write in 1416, when too old to continue soldiering, and completed in 1422, as he explains in the Prologue. His objects were the clarification of past events, which had often been elaborated and confused by subsequent writers, and the elucidation of their moral significance. Writing as the English under Henry V conquered Normandy, Jean de Courcy may have found consolation in discerning a divine, didactic purpose in the rise and fall of empires of the past. His history is not organised strictly chronologically, although the basic division into six books corresponds to the six ages of the world as defined by Vincent of Beauvais among others: Book I follows Genesis to the peopling of the world after the Flood and then concentrates on Greece; Book II deals with Troy; Book III the cities founded by the fleeing Trojans; Book IV with Babylon; Book V with Macedonia and the conquests of Alexander; Book VI with the Maccabees and the Holy Land to the time of Christ. Within each book, a section of narrative is followed by a parallel event to reinforce the moral lesson.
The appetite for classical history in the vernacular meant that the work enjoyed considerable contemporary success, although there is no modern edition; it survives complete or substantially complete in 25 manuscripts and partially in a further 10, as listed by B. de Chancel, 'Les manuscrits de La Bouquechardière de Jean de Courcy', Revue d'histoire des textes, XVII (1987), pp.219-290, where this copy is listed as Philipps 24441, with no knowledge of its contents. These are: the Prologue opening ou nom du benoist pere du glorieux filz et du saint esperit...moy Jehan de courcy f.2, Contents of Books 1-IV ff.3-8v, Book I ff.10-105, Contents of Book II f.106r&v, Book II ff.107-167, Contents of Book III ff.167v-168, Book III ff.169-216 (lacking opening), Contents of Book IV f.216r&v (lacking end), Book IV ff.217-271v (lacking opening), Contents of Book V f.272r&v, Book V ff.273-340 (lacking opening), Contents of Book VI f.340v (lacking end), Book VI ending in the final 42nd chapter ...tu me garderas ma loy et mes comandemens ff.341-383v (lacking beginning and end). It does not follow any of the four conventions for organising the text distinguished by de Chancel, since there is a combined table of contents for Books I-IV, as well as separate tables for all six books, and the prologue to Book I is numbered as the first of the chapters in the list of contents but left unnumbered in the text, as are the prologues of the other books in tables and text. Its apparently unique features may be explained by its likely place of origin in Poitou, where Charles de Coëtivy chiefly lived: most copies were produced in Normandy, specifically in Rouen where there was a thriving book industry. It was in Rouen that the standard system of illustration was established, a system which the makers of this copy either ignored or did not know.
It was conventional in illustrated copies to open each of the six books with a miniature of selected scenes from their content, whereas this copy has an additional miniature for the Prologue to Book I, which depicts episodes from Book I itself, and then the miniatures for Books I and II remaining of the usual six. The standard pattern established in Rouen, exemplified by the copy commissioned by the Town Council in 1457, BnF Ms fr.2685, illuminated by the Master of the Geneva Latini, was for each miniature to show essentially one scene or series of related events within a unified space. In this copy, each miniature is divided into four separate scenes; divided miniatures are known in only two other copies, both in Paris (BnF Smith-Lesouëf Mss 71-72 and Arsenal Ms 3691), although neither has the seventh miniature nor the same choice of subjects, partly because in this copy eight scenes not four were illustrated from Book I. It is likely, therefore, that the illuminator was evolving his own solutions, probably on instructions from the scribe or patron rather than from his own reading of such a lengthy text. His style would place him in central or western France, most probably Poitou; Charles de Coëtivy's illuminator appeals through spontaneity rather than the polished refinement of Robinet Testard, illuminator to his brother-in-law of Angoulême.
The lively figures are kept comparatively small so that their scale in relation to their settings bears some relation to reality. Scenes are set in deep spaces with high horizons, with the foremost figures often set in the mid-ground to emphasise their extent, while columns of soldiers fulfil a similar function in battle scenes. Chronology was not Jean de Courcy's overriding concern and there is little sense of an alien time or place in the miniatures. The protagonists wear clothes and armour of c.1480 France and the simplified buildings and townscapes are also contemporary and northern. Where essential, antique props do appear, so that the temple where Achilles is killed, for instance, is flanked by two naked idol figures raised on columns. The contemporary costume may have been deliberately employed to stress the continuing relevance of the lessons of antiquity.
Such an imposing and weighty volume must have been intended for a lectern, perhaps for reading aloud, with the audience coming to view the illustrations when appropriate. The fashion for ostentatiously large secular texts for the private collections of noblemen, rather than the libraries of scholars, may have been fuelled by the new contrast with printed books but it was not a very practical one. Few copies of the Bouquechardière now remain outside public collections. The only other copy listed by de Chancel is also from the Phillipps Collection and incomplete: in the Abbey Sale, Sotheby's 19 June 1989, lot 3025, it was thought to be the only copy to have appeared on the market since the Ashburnham Sale in 1901 (lot 301, now Pierpont Morgan M.214). Written when humanist scholarship was only beginning to transform attitudes to the classical world, Jean de Courcy's history and its illustrations are telling evidence of what the educated layman knew of antiquity and why that knowledge mattered to him; there are unlikely to be many opportunities to obtain a copy of this significant work, let alone one with such a distinguished provenance.
The subjects of the miniatures are as follows:
f.2 The three sons of Noah who will people the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa; the first king of Greece; perhaps Perseus rescuing Andromeda; Perseus saving Andromeda by turning Phineas and his followers to stone with the head of Medusa.
f.10 A sally from a besieged city, perhaps Pandion helping Athens against the barbarians; the infant Hercules strangling the serpents; two of the labours of Hercules; Hercules and Jason destroy Troy.
f.107 The rape of Helen; the Greeks disembarking and fighting the Trojans fighting outside Troy; the body of Hector is carried into Troy to his lamenting womenfolk; Paris treacherously kills Achilles in the temple.