NICOLAS DE HOUSSEMAINE (c.1475-1523), Gestes des premiers comtes de Dammartin, in French, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[Paris, 1500-1503]258 x 175 mm, ii (i as pastedown) + 61 leaves (f.61 as pastedown): 18, 27(of 8, lacking iv), 36(of 8, lacking i and vi), 46(of 8, lacking iii and viii, unfoliated cancelled blank), 54(of 8, lacking iii-vi), 66(of 8, lacking ii and vi), 7-88, 96, 102, some catchwords written vertically on versos of final rectos, original foliation in Roman numerals in upper right margins of rectos, 18 lines written in black ink in a lettre bâtarde between two verticals and 19 horizontals ruled in pink, prickings for both verticals and horizontals, justification: 144 x 86 mm, one-line initials and line-endings in liquid gold on grounds of blue or maroon, SIX LARGE MINIATURES IN ARCHITECTURAL FRAMES OF LIQUID GOLD, accompanying SIX LARGE INITIALS in gold, blue, maroon and white and SIX BORDERS OF SPRAYS OF ACANTHUS, FLOWERS AND FRUIT ON GROUNDS OF LIQUID GOLD WITH THE ARMS OF CHABANNES IMPALING BOURBON-ROUSSILLON (lacking 11 leaves, including seven with miniatures, miniatures rubbed, three only slightly, smudging and offsetting in margins). 16th-century velvet in six horizontal bands of gold colour and purple over wooden boards, spine reinforced in 17th-century brown sheep gilt, with gilt lettering piece (mis-titled), marks of five metal attachments and two clasps on each cover (velvet worn, especially at lower edge, front pastedown probably lifted and reglued).
PRESENTATION COPY FOR JEAN DE CHABANNES
1. Jean de Chabannes, comte de Dammartin (d.1503): as recorded in the dedicatory prologue, ff.ii v - iii, and in the shields in the borders of ff.i, xxxii, xlix v, liiii, lvii, lxii, where the arms of Dammartin impale those of Bourbon-Roussillon for Jean de Chabannes and his second wife, Suzanne, daughter of Louis, bâtard de Bourbon, comte de Roussillon, and Jeanne, the legitimated bastard daughter of Louis XI. The Prologue was written after the death of Anne, his eldest daughter by his first wife, Margaret of Calabria, daughter of Nicolas of Anjou, duke of Calabria, grandson of King René, so that the manuscript can be dated after 12 June 1500 and before his own death in July 1503.
2. Nicolas d'Anjou-Mézières, comte de St-Fargeau (1518-68), grandson of Jean de Chabannes and Suzanne de Bourbon, through their daughter, Antoinette, the wife of René d'Anjou-Mézières: inscription inside upper cover 'Ce present livre appartient a Monsieur Nicolas danjou, comte de Saint Fargeau et des pays de puysaye, baron de mezieres de mareuil et de villeboys' etc. Antoinette had continued the Chabannes tradition of allying with bastard royal lines, since René was the son of Louis d'Anjou-Mézières, the bastard of Charles d'Anjou, comte de Maine, brother of King René. The inscription can be dated to after 1551 when Nicolas was made comte de St-Fargeau and married Gabrielle, the heiress of Mareuil. For the family, see H. de Chabannes, Histoire de la maison de Chabannes, with Preuves and Suppléments 1893-1929.
3. Nicolas Riche and Jehan Riche: written in a later 16th-century hand, f.69v; request for any finder to return the book; various pen trials etc on final leaf and pastedown.
4. Richard Heber (1773-1833): his sale 10-19 February 1836, no 642, label on spine; his name recorded in pencil inside upper cover.
5. Sir Thomas Phillipps (1792-1872): his number 8161 inside upper cover and remnants of label on spine. British Library, Loan 36/24.
Nicolas de Houssemaine, Gestes des premiers comtes de Dammartin, ff.i-lxv: dedicatory prologue to Jean de Chabannes, opening 'Comme ainsi soit iouxte la sentence de philosophe...' and ending '...la matiere dicelluy ie le ay divise en douze chapitres', ff.i-ix; list of chapters, ff.ix v - xi v; the first leaf of the text lacking, the first chapter opening at '...lui fut tel conseil donne pour deux causes...', f.xiii; the twelfth chapter ending '...en exaltant tousiours la loy de nostre seigneur, f.lxv.
The author, Nicolas de Houssemaine, originally from Alençon, was a doctor, who graduated in medicine at Paris in 1500 and was licencié there in 1502. He describes himself as 'tres humble serviteur et medecin' to Jean de Chabannes, to whom he wants to offer 'service agreable en recognoissance selon mon pouvoir des grans benefices que mavez faiz et faictes de jour en jour'. Despite Houssemaine's professional attentions, Jean de Chabannes died in 1503 and Houssemaine settled in Angers, where he became docteur régent en la Faculté de médecine in 1506. He was clearly successful and prosperous, since he and his wife built a chapel, dedicated to St Nicolas, and he was buried in the church of Ste-Croix, where the couple appeared in a stained glass window along with the greatest doctors of antiquity (see, E. Wickersheimer, Dictionnaire biographique des médecins en France au Moyen Age, 1979, II, pp.571-2).
Houssemaine is otherwise known as an author only from a plague treatise, published c.1530 in Lyon. According to his prologue, he found his material on the early history of the counts of Dammartin in various old manuscripts, including one in verse. These were the rhymed chanson de geste of Theseus of Cologne and its 15th-century prose adaptation. His very abbreviated version focuses on Assaillant, first count of Dammartin, and his adventures with Louis, son of King Dagobert, and Theseus, King of Cologne, in Europe and the East and then on Assaillant's son, Guerard, the second count, who rescues Queen Baudour from Geoffroy, King of the Frisians. Houssemaine actually used an existing adaptation of Theseus of Cologne, also made to emphasise the counts of Dammartin but far less curtailed, which survives in a luxurious copy in Paris, BnF, Ms fr.1473. This manuscript is roughly contemporary with the present lot and was presumably made for Jean de Chabannes, as was a further version of intermediate length, bearing the arms of Chabannes-Dammartin, BnF, fr. 15096. While the middle-sized version has a prologue falsely claiming to have translated the work from Latin, only the present lot records an author. It is not clear whether Houssemaine was responsible for all three versions or only for this, the most abbreviated. His prologue, and so the record of his authorship, were omitted from the copy of the present lot with the arms of Jean de Chabannes's other surviving daughter, Avoye, and her first husband, Edmond de Prie, to whom she was married from 1504 until his death in 1511, BnF Ms fr. 4962. This presentation copy, and Houssemaine's authorship of at least one of the three Dammartin adaptations, was not known to Bossuat for his analysis 'Théseus de Cologne', Le Moyen Age, LXV, 1959, pp.97-133, 293-320 and 539-72. The misleading lettering piece Histoire de St Louis concealed the text's true identity; it was listed in the British Library as Gestes de Courtenay from a reference to the seigneurie de Courtenay in the prologue.
Owning three versions of the same history glorifying the founders of his line is entirely consonant with Jean de Chabannes' patronage. About the same time, in 1502-3, Jean commissioned a series of portraits of the kings of France and of the counts and countesses of Dammartin, accompanied by a verse genealogy, and followed by an acount of his successful legal battle over the will of his daughter, Anne (Chantilly, Musée Condé, Ms 866, see V. Auclair et al., L'art du manuscrit de la Renaissance en France, exh. cat. 2001, no 4). He clearly liked illustrated books about himself and his family, as shown by Les Marguerites hystorialles (Paris, BnF, Ms fr. 955), written in 1497 and titled for his mother and first wife, and his specially adapted version of the Chronique scandaleuse (BnF, Ms Clairambault 481).
The miniatures are in the style of Jean Pichore, known from two documented manuscripts, of which the De civitate Dei of 1501-1503 (BnF, Ms lat. 2070) is contemporary with the present lot. The accounts of its patron, Georges d'Amboise, archbishop of Rouen, state that in 1502-1503 Pichore was living in Paris, where Houssemaine was apparently also then based. The opening miniature, with its portrait of Jean de Chabannes, seems from the same hand as the miniature illustrating Jean's legal triumph over his daughter's estate in the Chantilly manuscript (ms 866, f.92). This has been attributed to the Master of Petrarch's Triumphs, a distinct illuminator named from a French translation of I trionfi given to Louis XII around 1503 (BnF, Ms fr. 594), whose oeuvre has been clarified by Caroline Zöhl, Jean Pichore, Buchmaler, Graphiker und Verleger in Paris um 1500, 2004. His fluid painting, with dashes of gold to highlight and define figures and settings, creates vivid scenes of action, appropriate to the chivalric world of the chanson de geste. The elaborate architectural frames are executed with an exuberant economy, with statues of convincing three-dimensionality created by just a few lines. Other illuminators associated with Pichore contributed to the programme of decoration; Pichore himself may have painted Houssemaine's carefully individualised features.
The presentation copy of this highly personalised text preserves both the name of the author, in his explanatory prologue, and his appearance, in the presentation miniature that includes portraits of author and patron. It forms a significant addition to the lavish and flamboyantly egocentric manuscript collection of Jean de Chabannes.
The subjects of the miniatures are as follows: Nicolas de Houssemaine, in his academic robes, presents his work to Jean de Chabannes (the rubbing fortunately avoiding the principal faces), f.i; King Asseres of Antioch learns of the treason of Lambert, f.xxxii; Guerard de Dammartin defeats Geffroy de Vermandoys and secures the release of Queen Baudour, f.xlix verso; the château of Dammartin besieged by Geffroy, King of Frisia, who is killed in single combat by Guerard de Dammartin, f.liiij; Regnier, King of Antioch, presents a traitor's head to Louis, King of France, f.lvii; King Louis of France has the silver stripped from the roof of St Denis, f.lxii.