PRAYERBOOK AND BENEDICTIONAL, for the use of Cistercian nuns, in Latin, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[France, second quarter 16th century]
207 x 143mm. ii + endleaf + 152 leaves: 18, 25(of 8 lacking iii-vi, with i from next gathering attached), 37(of 8 but with i attached to preceding gathering), 4-198, 204(perhaps of 6 lacking v-vi), some signatures, remains of a few trimmed catchwords, 18 lines in black ink written in angular Gothic bookhands by three scribes between two verticals and 19 horizontals, the first and last extending across page, ruled in red except for ff.77-92 in violet, justification: 127 x 95mm with some variations, prickings, rubrics in red, from f.133 in a rounded hand, numerous one-line initials, signs of the cross, paragraph marks and line-endings in liquid gold on grounds of red, blue or green, patterned with liquid gold, some line endings as ragged staffs in liquid gold and red or green, numerous two- to four-line initials with staves of pink or blue patterned with white or of green patterned with yellow with sprays of flowers or fruits in green, red, blue and white on grounds of liquid gold, or with staves of liquid gold on grounds of red and blue or divided grounds of red and blue, both patterned with white, five- to seven-line initials with staves predominately of blue and white, with flower and fruit sprays on liquid gold infills usually contrasted with grounds of red patterned with white, ONE HISTORIATED INITIAL WITH FULL SCATTER BORDER of fruit, flowers and a fly on a liquid gold ground and BAS DE PAGE MINIATURE, one large miniature with coats of arms in a classicising frame of liquid gold and red, additional blessings in contemporary hand foot of ff.9v-10, where sacerdotalia in margin as replacement for pontificalia (opening page with miniature rubbed, some initials smudged, water staining to some margins). Modern red velvet.
1. Cistercian House: presumably a nunnery since the opening, and only illustrated, office is for the profession of female novices, who promise to live secundum regulam sancti Benedicti; the nuns in the miniature below are in the white habits of the Cistercians. The coats of arms on f.12v have not yet been identified: chequy or and azure, a lion rampant or; argent, three roses gules, leafed vert and centred or; the second coat was borne by many individuals and institutions, including the Cistercian Abbey of Foigny, near Vervins, Aisne. The benediction for the translation of the Crown of Thorns by St Louis IX to the Ste Chapelle, the chapel of the royal palace in Paris, ff.143v-144, may indicate a house with Parisian or royal connections. The scribes do not appear professional and were probably members of the Order.
2. The Abbey of Cîteaux, the mother house of the Cistercian Order: a later hand has added Sanctae Mariae Cistercii, twice on f.1 and more formally on f.152v. The Abbey of Cîteaux, to the south of Dijon, was suppressed in 1791. The benediction added to ff.9v-10 in a 16th-century hand includes priestly vestments, which could have been required for a nuns' chapel or needed when the book passed to a monastery.
3. M. Chardin: note of contents on second added leaf ends Il est du cabinet de Mr Chardin, with 30 in lower right corner, repeated in later hand; No9 in upper right corner in different ink. The library of the bookseller and collector Chardin was sold in Paris over the years 1806-1824.
4. List of contents in English; titles on spine in Latin and English.
Office for the Profession of Cistercian novices and benedictions ff.1-10v; Hours of the Holy Spirit from terce (lacking matins to prime) ff.11-12v; Hours of the Cross ff.13-14v; Hours of the Passion ff.15-24v; Hours of the Compassion of the Virgin ff.25-37; prayers and hymns ff.38-87, from f.85 a different hand completes the prayer to be said at communion and a short sequence of benedictions; Communal Benedictions ff.88-92; Temporal Benedictions ff.92-133v; Sanctoral Benedictions ff.133v-152v, where the rubricator with the rounded script wrote Finis.
The first scribe wrote ff.1-84; the second ff.85-88; the third ff.89-152. A fourth hand was probably responsible for the rounded script of the rubrics from f.133v.
Other benedictions were added subsequently: at the appropriate places directions were written in the margins to find benedictions for St Benedict, f.138v, the Visitation, f.140, and St Bernard, f.143v, all in fine huius libri. Those additions are no longer part of the volume.
The illumination shows considerable similarities with those of the Master of François de Rohan, active in Paris from c.1525-1546, with stocky figures forcefully detailed in black and with rich colouring in both miniatures and text decoration, enhanced here by the generous clean margins. The robust putto in the initial on f.1 and the puffy faces in the undisciplined antique framing on f.12v can also be paralleled in the Master's work, while large initials with similarly assertive flower and fruit motifs are found in the Saulx-Tavannes Hours (Paris, Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, Ms 640) illuminated by the Master in 1533. The exuberance of his miniatures and classical framing motifs may indicate that he was of German or Swiss origin (M. Orth, 'The Master of François de Rohan. A Familiar French Renaissance Miniaturist with a new name', Illuminating the Book, Makers and Interpreters, Essays in Honour of Janet Backhouse, M. Brown and S. McKendrick eds., 1998, pp.69-91). It seems likely that this prayerbook was also illuminated in Paris in his circle; alternatively, it is a product of eastern France, where an illuminator could independently have absorbed elements of German style.
Despite the three or four scribes, the book was illuminated in one campaign: the amateur scribes may have decided to employ a professional for the illumination. The decoration was left incomplete, although the presence of a third miniature could have motivated the removal of the folios from the opening of the Hours of the Holy Spirit. Spaces were left at intervals throughout the sequence of prayers and devotions for the miniatures that would have made this richly decorated book equally richly illustrated.
The subjects of the miniatures are as follows:
f.1 Three novice Cistercian nuns being presented for a priest's blessing before an altar with altarpiece perhaps of St Benedict or St Bernard; five-line historiated initial with staves of brown and liquid gold, clasped by a putto against an infill of pink, with a ground of blue and white, framed in liquid gold.
f.12v A richly bejewelled cross in liquid gold and brown, held by two angels in pink robes with gold highlights; two coats of arms hang from the top of the immediate miniature frame; the miniature and the four lines of text above are enclosed in a classicising frame of liquid gold and red frame with putto and beast heads.