MANUEL DE BLAZON, in French, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[France, c.1480]136 x 97mm. i + 30 + i leaves: 1-38, 46, COMPLETE, 16 lines written in black ink in a lettre bâtarde between two verticals and 17 horizontals ruled in pink, justification: 71 x 48mm, rubrics in red, one- and two-line initials in liquid gold on brown grounds, TWENTY-FIVE PAGES WITH SEVENTY-TWO BLAZONED SHIELDS in full heraldic colors and metals, LARGE ARCH-TOPPED MINIATURE WITH BORDER to two sides of gold and coloured acanthus fronds on a grey ground (minor offsetting and show-through). Contemporary alum-tawed skin over pasteboard with paper spine label 'Du Blazon' (seven wormholes at spine, leather worn at one raised band, rubbed, lacking fore-edge ties).
1. Member of the de La Madeleine family from the Charolais: their coat of arms is painted in the illuminated border on f.3. These arms seem to be original but there appear to be signs of repainting in the lower border that may indicate that the de La Madeleine was an early owner rather than the first. The manuscript clearly remained in the family and the coat of arms of an abbot painted on the first leaf has the de La Madeleine arms on the dexter side. This may be Jean de la Madeleine, conseiller clerc at the parlement of Dole in 1500, abbot of Saint-Rigaud in the Maconnais, then elected Grand prior of Cluny.
2. Convent of St Joseph, Paris, 1638: as inscription on first leaf. The house of reformed Carmelites was founded by Marie de Medicis in 1611. Pentrials on the back pastedown include two shields.
3. Sir Thomas Phillipps (1782-1872): his lion stamp with Sir T.P. Middle Hill, and his number 873 on front pastedown; his number on first leaf, paper label on spine. Bought at the sale of Charles Chardin, De Bure, Paris, 9 February, 1824. In his Catalogue Phillipps stated that many of his purchases at the Chardin sale had come from monastic houses.
4. Lucius Wilmerding (1880-1949): bookplate on front pastedown; his notable library was dispersed in a series of sales by Parke Bernet, New York, 1950-1951.
Manuel de blason in twelve chapters: list of chapter headings ff.1-3; first chapter headed ' Cest le premier chapitre de ce present traictie lequel contient trois parties...', f.3v., and opening 'Le tresvaillant et victorieux roy alexandre de macedone le tres prudent...', f.4; the twelfth chapter ending '...prendra ce present traictie fin et acomplissement lequel soit al honneur de dieu tout puissant et de sa tresglorieuse mere', f.27v.
The treatise begins by tracing the origin of bearing arms to Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar and explains why it was necessary -- to distinguish between soldiers in battle so that the valiant can be recognized and that their arms can be borne by their descendants in memory of the valor of their ancestors, and to encourage their emulation. It goes on to detail the colours and furs, their significance and qualities, divisions, pieces and common charges. It ends with fifteen coats of arms considered especially difficult. It is designed to teach the art of blasoning, how to describe a coat of arms and, therefore, how to understand a written description. With one exception, the 72 shields are not associated with a particular family, since they are there to illustrate the standard langauge of heraldry. The exception is the final, most complicated example, that of the Pressigny of Anjou, perhaps this is a clue to the identity of the author of the work or the location where it was made.
Their complexity made such treatises very attractive to the gentleman and nobles who needed to be familiar with its basic principles. This is clearly a book for the amateur and not a professional herald, although it is probably based on Le blason des armes and Le blason des couleurs of Jean Courtois, better known as the Herald Sicily from his office under Alfonso V, King of Aragon and Naples. Courtois was born in Hainaut and died there, at Mons, in 1436/7, having been sent by Alfonso to participate in the peace negotiations between the Kings of France and England and the Duke of Burgundy at Arras in 1435. His work was very influential and was translated into several languages.
The commissioner clearly wanted a luxuriously illustrated treatise. It comes complete with an opening miniature of knights about to join in combat that serves to demonstrate the necessity of bearing arms -- fully encased in armour, visors down, they are unidentifiable and indistinguishable one from the other. The rapid quality of the paint and of the defining ink lines give the scene a lively vivacity. The shields were probably the work of a heraldic specialist. Their bold colours and designs attractively demonstrate how heraldry does indeed create devices that serve as instant identifiers for their bearers. This little volume is a guide to one of the essential sciences of courtly life, made for someone himself qualified to bear arms.