THE CONVERSION OF SAINT EUSTACE, miniature on a leaf from the Loredan Hours, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[?Rouen, c.1430 and Bruges c.1455]
180 x 129mm (leaf), 76 x 50mm overall (miniature). An arch-topped miniature with an extensive landscape with the saint kneeling in a woodland clearing and praying before the stag with the vision of the Crucified Christ between its antlers, the saint's dog rearing in the foreground and his horse partly visible behind him, the miniature framed with a burnished-gold fillet and above three lines of text introduced by a burnished-gold initial on a ground of blue, a full-page border comprising burnished-gold baguettes with coloured foliate pattern on three sides with sprays of blue, green and orange acanthus at the corners and hairline tendrils with golden trefoils and flower terminals, on the recto 13 lines of text written in brown ink in a gothic bookhand on 14 horizontals and 2 verticals ruled in pink, text justification: 71 x 48mm, within a three-sided fillet of burnished gold and pink and blue and a full-page border of golden trefoils and flower and fruit terminals on hairline sprays (the miniature and surrounding gold baguette in excellent condition but a coat of arms erased from the lower border, smudging and white overpaint in the upper half of the left-hand border, remains of adhesive from tape in the corners of the upper margin). Mounted and framed.
The miniature shows the conversion of Placidus, a Captain of the Emperor Trajan; one day while Placidus was out hunting, the figure of Christ on the Cross appeared to him between the antlers of the stag he had been pursuing. Placidus listened to Christ, adopted Christianity and the name Eustace. The text beneath opens Laudent in celis a[n]i[m]e s[an]c[t]orum qui xpisti vestigia su[n]t secuti.
This prayer was one of the the suffrages in a Book of Hours, now known as the Loredan Hours, the bulk of which survives in Paris, Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, Ms 575. In his book centred on this manuscript James Douglas Farquhar noted that the prayers Obsecro te and O Intemerata, the Office of the Dead, the Penitential Psalms and the Suffrages were lacking from the Arsenal mansucript: Creation and Imitation (Fort Lauderdale, 1976). These texts must have been long removed from the original volume when they appeared as lot 459 at Sotheby's, 15 March 1907; already the 102 leaves were in an 'old' binding and with the coats of arms erased from the borders. The fragment contained 17 miniatures, including the present one, and appeared again in the 1908 and 1909 sale catalogues of Théophile Belin. The fragment had been split and the present leaf separated from its fellows when the other 16 miniatures were offered in Ludwig Rosenthal's undated catalogue 155. (We are extremely grateful to Franois Avril for his generosity in informing us of the history of this leaf.)
The courtly elegance of the present miniature was no doubt the cause for the identification of St Eustace as a portrait of Arthur de Richemont, Duc de Bretagne in the Belin catalogues, where it was suggested that the manuscript had been made for him. In fact, the coat of arms, erased from the St Eustace leaf, that is found in the lower borders of the Arsenal manuscript was identified by Jonathan Alexander as belonging to the Loredan, one of the great patrician families of Venice.
The borders throughout the Arsenal manuscript, like those of the present leaf, are of a northern French type and three of the miniatures are by the Fastolf Master, who worked in Paris and Rouen before his departure to England in the 1440s. The remaining miniatures are the work of Willem Vrelant and were likely to have been painted in the early 1450s: B. Bousmanne, 'Item à Guillaume Wyelant, aussi enluminure...' (Turnhout, 1997) pp.37-38, 288-289 et passim. Like the other suffrage miniatures from the Loredan Hours this St Eustace is an early work of Vrelant: an example of the charming, attractive and anecdotal style of the illuminator who went on to paint so many manuscripts for the Dukes of Burgundy and their court, and who was so influential that elements of his style coloured much of Bruges manuscript production in the second half of the 15th century.