GENEALOGICAL AND CHRONICLE ROLL, in French, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
[northern France, ca.1460s]
55.5 x 1915cm (63'10" x 1'10") approximately. 29 membranes, from one to five columns of text written in a bâtarde hand on a red ruling of two columns subdivided as required, lines of descent and name roundels in red, paragraph marks of blue with red penwork, two - and three-line initials alternately of blue or burnished gold with flourishing of red or black respectively, large opening initial of gold with monochrome decoration against a blue ground and with a pink infill and with a right-angle border made up of sprays of gold trefoils on hairline stems, acanthus and fruit and flowers, final section with a large blue initial on a red monochrome-patterned ground, SIXTY-SIX ROUNDELS WITH MINIATURES, these roundels mostly 75mm in diameter with a cusped outline in black (some creasing to first membrane, occasional small pigment losses and small marginal tears, repair to upper right corner).
The roll opens 'Sy sensuit la genealogie de la bible qui monstre et dit combien chascun aage a dure de puis le commencement du monde jusques a l'advenement ihesus...,' but this is by no means the entire scope of the history that unfurls. As well as encompassing man's history from the Creation according to Old Testament sources, once Gideon has been reached, the history of Troy and its descendants is included alongside: as the sons of Noah dispersed after the flood to inhabit different lands and found different races, so the Trojans fled from their burning city to people and name different lands -- 'Cest a dire peuplerent romme, lombardie, france et angleterre'. At its most expansive the roll has five lines of descent side by side, tracing the history and descent of the Popes, the Holy Roman Emperors, the Kings of England, of France and of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Other versions survive, showing that it was a composition that was repeatedly updated to provide a pedigree for the current King of France. For example the introduction to the manuscript in Paris (Bib. Nat. MS fr.61) that ends with Charles VII (d.1461) declares the scope of the work to continue until 1375 and Charles V. The copyist obviously overlooked this anachronism. There is a similar scribal oversight in the present manuscript showing that this too was an updated copy of an earlier text.
Four other Chronicle rolls closely related to the present manuscript and apparently copies of the same version are in the New York Public Library, MS 124 (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Secular Spirit: Life and Art at the end of the Middle Ages, 1975, p.166), Cambridge, Mass., Houghton Library, bMS Typ 41 (Roger Wieck, Late Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts 1350-1525 in the Houghton Library, Cambridge, Mass. 1983, pp.22-23), a roll in the London Borough of Croydon Archive and a roll formerly the property of the Earl of Derby (sold Christie's, London, 26 November 1997 lot 5). All four of them, like the present roll, continue to include Louis XI as the final monarch. Although in this case it appears that the roll was made in the lifetime of Charles VII and ended with his portrait roundel and the names of his children, following the account of the life of his father Charles VI. The final text, the year by year chronicle of Charles VII's reign and the portrait of Louis XI are the work of a different scribe and illuminator.
The Houghton Library and Croydon copies have miniatures on only the first membrane; it has been suggested that the more fully illuminated version in New York was made for Louis XI himself. It seems likely that the present manuscript too was completed either by Louis or someone closely associated with him. As none of Louis XI's children are named it is probable that it was completed early in his reign.
Genealogical rolls such as this were physical demonstrations of the right to rule and emphasized the authority of the monarch; their production often seems to have had some propaganda purpose. In the present manuscript Louis XI is shown as the culmination of the direct line from Clovis, through Charlemagne and Saint Louis, all of them portrayed as he is, sceptred and crowned. It is a visual statement of his God-given right to rule. Louis no doubt recognised the threat to his position, and during the course of his reign his brother Charles, the duke of Burgundy and the English, and the nobility of France all worked against him. Here at the end of this roll, Louis stands alone, his entitlement to rule contrasted with that of his warring contemporaries in England. The descent of the Kings of England stops with a fulsome account of the reign of Richard II -- 'en bonne prosperite par lespace de xxii ans sans contredit' -- and the censure of Henry IV for usurping him in 1400 -- 'Et apres ce fut prins par thrayson et apres fut desgrade du tout de la couronne dangleterre et mis en prison fermee. et fut henry de lenchastre couronne roy dangleterre le quel a fait mourir des plus nobles du royaulme dangleterre'. Then, definitively, two further lines: 'Cy finent les roys dangleterre. Explicit'. For the rest of the roll the text is in single lines and treats solely the reigns of Charles VI and his descendants. This is a clear demonstation of Louis' just title to the French crown and of the illegality of any claim from an English king to regain the Plantagenet lands.
In addition to the highly decorative illuminated initials that mark each section of the text this copy of the Genealogie is exceptionally fully illustrated. The sixty-six roundels contain attractive and carefully painted scenes. The rulers, popes and emperors, suitably crowned and robed, are usually represented standing in an interior on a green-tiled floor in front of brocade hangings and arcaded architecture. Sometimes they are shown in action, ordering events and conquering opponents. The scenes from history or legend include battles, building, creation and destruction; the overall impression is one of a lively and decorative variety. The style of painting is consistent with the manuscript having been produced in northern France. The final roundel, with the figure of Louis XI, is close in style to the Master of the Échevinage de Rouen -- otherwise known as the Master of the Geneva Latini -- whose style dominated Rouennais book production in the third quarter of the 15th century.
The subjects of the miniatures are as follows:
Creation of the sky, moon and stars: Creation of the earth, grass and trees: Creation of the waters and fish: Creation of birds and beasts: God creating angels: Fall of the rebel angels: Creation of Eve: Adam and Eve with the serpent in the Garden of Eden: God forbidding Adam and Eve to eat the apple: Expulsion from Paradise: Angel giving clothing to Adam and Eve: Adam digging and Eve spinning: Noah building the Ark: Abraham sacrificing Isaac: the tower of Babylon: Joshua, disciple of Moses: David crowned King of Israel: Destruction of Troy: Four roundels each with a ship containing a warrior fleeing from Troy - Aeneas, Priam, Turtus and Helenus: Destruction of Samaria: Bruit killing giants: Sedechiar, King of Judea: Nebuchadnezar being cut into 300 pieces and fed to birds: Trojans building the city of Sicambre: Romulus supervising the building of Rome: Cyrus King of Persia taking Babylon and the death of Balthazar: Trojans building Hutesse: The Rape of the Sabine women: Ahasuerus King of Persia exiling Vasti: Alexander of Macedonia, newly crowned emperor: Judas Maccabeus: Nativity: Infant Christ with the Instruments of the Passion: Murder of Julius Caesar: Last supper: the new Troy - London, England: French leaving the city of Sicambre: first Christian King of Great Britain ordaining bishops and archdeacons: French killing the Romans in battle: Conan, King of Brittany: Pharamond, first King of France: Baptism of Clovis: Anglist of Britanny: Dagobert founding St Denis: King Arthur and Mordred in battle: Destruction of England: Pepin: Pope Gregory the Great: William the Conqueror: Hugh Capet: Godefroy de Bouillon on board a ship to conquer the Holy land: St Charlemagne as emperor: Godefroy de Bouillon conquering Jerusalem; Emperor Berengarius I: Philippe de Valois VI: Edward III: Jean le Bon: Charles V: Charles VI: Charles VII: Louis XI