A “Spectacular” Discovery: imprints of eyeglasses and their specific context in a Book of Hours

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 14/52

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A volume with a rust stain from eyeglasses, presented with an actual pair of eyeglasses in front of it (exhibited in Le verre, un moyen-âge inventif, Musée National du Moyen-Âge-Thermes de Cluny, 20 September 2019 – 8 January 2018); Book of Hours for the Use of Rome, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1945‑65‑14, fols. 106v–107r (eyeglass imprints in the gutter)

The recent exhibition on glass in the Middle Ages (Le verre, un moyen-âge inventif, at the Musée National du Moyen-Âge-Thermes de Cluny) exhibited a famous rust-stain in an incunable caused by a pair of eyeglasses long forgotten inside the closed book.  The differential condensation of the metal frames around the lenses caused traces of oxidation to transfer to the paper surface over time. Presented evocatively in front of the book in the exhibition was an actual pair of late-medieval eyeglasses, excavated archeologically in a different context. Unsurprisingly, the original pair of eyeglasses responsible for the stain is long gone. And, in any case, since the incunable is a rather dry theological volume with few annotations, and the eyeglasses were left in for years, or possibly even decades or centuries, this is clearly the product of one-time forgetfulness. After all, how many items have we forgotten in our own books over the years?

1945‑65‑14, fols. 106v–107r (eyeglass imprints faintly visible in the gutter)

Less distinct, but perhaps more interesting, are multiple imprints of a single pair of glasses repeatedly left in an early-sixteenth-century French Book of Hours belonging to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA 1945-65-14), which I discovered to my astonishment while showing the book to my students in October 2018. Though eyeglass frames could be made of metal or wood, the double-ringed imprints suggest that in this case the frames were made of leather: the six pairs of contemporary spectacles thought to have belonged to Willibald Pirckheimer (discovered behind a bookcase at Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, Germany, in 1867) have hard leather frames with distinct ridges along their inner and outer radiuses.1 One can imagine such objects producing exactly the kind of pattern we see several times in our own book, the faint outlines perhaps caused by the transfer of accumulated dirt and oil deposited on the frames. As is often the case with such subtle features on the parchment page, these imprints are more easily visible in person than through digital images, excellent though they may be. Two artificially enhanced images below show the double-circle patterns more distinctly.

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1945‑65‑14, fols. 107r and 109r (eyeglass imprints, contrast adjusted with image-processing software)

What is most fascinating about our example is that these circular traces all occur after the end of the primary texts in the Book of Hours, within a gathering written in a different script but undoubtedly added very close to the date of the main texts’ production (see the collation model within the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis interface for more detail). The gathering contains prayers to be recited at specific points during the Mass: at Confession, before receiving the Host, and after receiving the Host. The absent-minded (or perhaps convenient) deposit of spectacles in the gutter of a book at such moments reminds us of Canon van der Paele’s famous likeness by Jan van Eyck.

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Jan Van Eyck, The Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele, 1434–36, Bruges, Groeningemuseum (detail), image from the Closer to Van Eyck project

More examples of spectacle imprints in manuscripts and early printed books survive than one might first imagine. As scholars begin to pay more attention to the usage histories of medieval and early modern books, discoveries of this sort continue to be made. One can assume that many more such traces, some fainter than others, survive undetected in books around the world. We even have numerous pairs of sixteenth-century eyeglasses that exist (outside of books), kept as souvenirs of distinguished users. The interest of the present discovery, however, lies in the fact that it occurs in a very particular point within a Book of Hours, and thus offers us the possibility to reconstruct a specific use context. While in the comfort of the user’s home there would presumably have been other places to leave one’s glasses, bringing the book to Mass required finding a safe place to put valuable spectacles between the recitation of Eucharistic prayers and the procession forward to receive the consecrated host.

1945‑65‑14, fols. 25v–26r (end of the “Ave cuius conceptio” prayer and beginning of the Hours of the Virgin; owner kneeling in prayer before the Annunciation)

As if this weren’t a specific enough context, the first owner of this book and the probable proprietor of these now-vanished spectacles is actually depicted in the book itself, in prayer, reading–glasses free–from a Book of Hours. What is more, his identity, never before pinpointed, can be deduced with near-certainty, along with that of the artist who painted the miniatures. But for this, you’ll have to wait for next week’s post!


Beware the Spanish inscription: A French Book of Hours, an Admiral, and an Iberian patron(?)

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 13/52

Book of Hours, Use of Rome, France, ca. 1475, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 212,  fols. 31r and 210v (beginning of the Hours of the Virgin with miniature of at Annunciation, and subsidiary scenes from the Life of the Virgin; suffrage of Saint Catherine with small miniature, showing rotunda-style script and the work of a second artist)

The Free Library of Philadelphia’s Lewis E 212 is a quite finely produced and well-preserved French Book of Hours of around 1475. Looking closely at its miniatures, we can determine that they are by two distinct artists: a more skilled and possibly younger artist, likely trained in Tours, was responsible for the pastel-like calendar vignettes and thirteen small miniatures; another artist, likely trained in Paris, produced the eleven large miniatures and their borders, as well as the small miniature for the Obsecro te. We prefer the luscious style of the former, as evidenced by the lovely calendar scenes. But who are we to judge?

Lewis E 212, fols. 2r–13v (details of calendar vignettes with labors of the months and signs of the zodiac)

However, what grabs our attention more than the division of labor between two distinct artists trained in Paris and Tours respectively, a phenomenon that is well-attested elsewhere elsewhere,1 is the book’s calligraphy. The manuscript’s large, clear, southern Rotunda script is unusual for a manuscript completed in the Loire Valley or Paris, and is more typical of manuscripts produced in Spain or Italy. In fact, a barely discernible inscription at the top of folio 1r is written in Spanish; this is likely what prompted Seymour de Ricci to state that it “was in Spain, ca. 1600” when he described the manuscript over eighty years ago.2

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Lewis E 212, fol. 1r (prayer in Spanish, with contrast-adjusted detail)

A close inspection of the inscription shows that the first line reads “La oracion del emperador…,” while the second ends with instructions for when the prayer is to be recited: “…in la mañana y a la noche.” The presence of this inscription, coupled with the unusual Rotunda script of the manuscript, point, perhaps, to it being originally intended for a Spanish patron. The production of bespoke manuscripts for the Spanish market was relatively frequent in the Netherlands (and we in fact encountered it previously in a Book of Hours from Lehigh University), but it is very unusual for France.

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Lewis E 212, upper cover (with arms of Jean-Louis Girardin de Vauvré); Portrait of Jean-Louis Girargin de Vauvré, after Hyacinthe Rigaud

The later ownership of the manuscript by the superintendent of the French Navy Jean-Louis Girardin de Vauvré (1642–1724), confirmed by the presence of his arms on the binding (a shield with three bird heads), is interesting, as he was heavily involved in the War of the Spanish Succession. Though we have no precise knowledge of his book collecting habits, as a highly mobile Naval official he would have had ample opportunity to acquire such a book during his travels.

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Photo of Lydia Thompson Morris, University of Pennsylvania, Morris Arboretum Archives; Portrait of Isaac Paschall Morris by a Follower of Thomas Sully, ca. 1835–40, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1928-7-121

Incidentally, the book’s presence in the collections of the Free Library of Philadelphia is due to the generosity of Lydia Thompson Morris (1849–1932), who donated historic Cedar Grove house (in West Fairmount Park) to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Together with her brother John, she owned the large Compton estate in Chestnut Hill that was to become the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania. Lydia and John Morris had inherited much of their wealth from their father, Isaac Paschall Morris (1803–1869), who had grown wealthy supplying iron fittings for ships.

Traces of use (and a Pilgrim’s badge!) in a well-traveled Book of Hours

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 12/52

Book of Hours, Use of Rome, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, 1945‑65‑11, beginnings and miniatures for suffrages to Saint John the Evangelist and Saint Anthony Abbot, pp. 277 and 279

Last week, we looked at the fanfare-style binding of a dainty yet otherwise apparently relatively unremarkable Book of Hours produced in France in the mid-fifteenth century. Yet the book’s pages actually contains a whole variety of additional clues as to its early use. These seemingly small traces showcase several of the kinds of early ownership information we can sometimes extract when we look closely at a Books of Hours. Amazingly, all of this evidence existed within the book before it was given its current, eye-catchingly tooled binding at the end of the sixteenth century.

   http://openn.library.upenn.edu/Data/0031/1945_65_11/data/web/9139_0295_web.jpg   This is an image of 286 from Philadelphia Museum of Art Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs 1945‑65‑11, Book of Hours, Use of Rome (France, 1445 - 1455).
1945‑65‑11, full-page miniature of Saint Adrian with interlaced initials I-Z and effaced coat-of-arms, p. 286 (with detail)

For example, a full-page miniature on the book’s final page bears a handsome-yet-damaged image of Saint Adrian of Nicomedia (recognizable by his anvil and lion), backed by a cloth-of-honor set within a Gothic architectural space and surrounded by an emblematic border, each bearing the unidentified interlaced initials “I-Z.” A coat-of-arms, unfortunately obliterated, is set below the miniature. This image was likely added to the book in the last two decades of the fifteenth century, either in Northern France or the Netherlands, judging by the general style of the miniature. The specific details of Adrian’s fur-lined cap and armor, the latter painted with powdered silver pigment that has oxidized to black, also point to a date slightly before the year 1500. Note the similarities and differences with this image of Saint Adrian by the Master of Jacques of Luxembourg, dated to between 1466 and 1470.

  This is an image of 262 from Philadelphia Museum of Art Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs 1945‑65‑11, Book of Hours, Use of Rome (France, 1445 - 1455).
1945‑65‑11, end of “Obsecro te” prayer with early ownership inscription, p. 262 (with detail)

On page 262, the book contains a crude, barely decipherable ownership inscription that seems to read: “Votre serviteur Jeanne.” A suffrage to Saint Michael is indicated by a rubric on this page, but it has been excised. Clearly, the book was subject to some modifications early in its lifetime. There are also a number of prayers added to the text by an early, yet not original hand, mostly relating to the Conception of Christ.

1945‑65‑11, inscription referring to Hippolyta Maria, duchess of Calabria, p. 34

Most interesting of all are two details, both on p. 34. In a careful but not necessarily professional hand, in Italian, we read “La nostra cara sorella che ne ama più che si stessa Hippolyta Maria duchessa de Calabria.” If this is an ownership mark, it must refer to either Ippolita Maria Sforza (1446-1484), wife of Alfonso, Duke of Calabria, or her granddaughter, Ippolita Sforza (1493-1501), who died at the tender age of eight while engaged to Ferdinand of Aragón, Duke of Calabria. Is it an autograph signature, however, or is it merely making reference to “our dear sister who loves others more than herself”? More research into the handwriting of these individuals may provide an answer.

This is an image of 34 from Philadelphia Museum of Art Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs 1945‑65‑11, Book of Hours, Use of Rome (France, 1445 - 1455).
1945‑65‑11, outline of sewing holes for a lead or tin pilgrim badge, p. 34 (detail)

But perhaps most remarkably of all, on the lower left side of the same page as the Italian inscription, a faint, bust-shaped mark is visible. This pattern is the outline of sewing holes once used to attach a lead or tin pilgrim’s badge to the page. This practice is attested in other, much more famous books, and it migrated into virtual marginal representations in certain Netherlandish Books of Hours as well.1 Below are examples of: A), actual pilgrim badges still sewn into the flyleaves of a book; B), multiple offsets of pilgrim badges similar in appearance to ours, and: C), illusionistically painted badges in the border of a so-called Ghent-Bruges style manuscript. Perhaps a detailed look through the Kunera pilgrim badge database will yield some potential candidates for badges that might match our (former) badge in terms of shape and size. As is evident from the pattern left on the page, it consisted of a haloed head and bust, possibly representing Christ. Happy hunting, insignophiles!

A) Book of Hours, Bruges, c. 1440–1460. The Hague, Royal Library of the Netherlands, 77 L 60, fols. 97v–98r (surviving sewn-in pilgrim badges)

B) Book of Hours, Netherlands, c. 1450–1500. San Marino, Huntington Library, Garrett HM 1136, fol. 1r (offsets from sewn-in pilgrim badges)

C) Book of Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, Netherlands, c. 1470–1490. Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 219, fol. 16v (illusionistic pilgrim badges)


A “fanfare” for a musical printeress in late-sixteenth-century Paris

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 11/52

Book of Hours, Use of Rome, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs, 1945‑65‑11, upper and lover covers (with “LUCRECE DU GUE” inscription)

A small mid-fifteenth-century Book of Hours now in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, PMA 1945-65-11, is housed in a beautifully preserved gilt-tooled à la fanfare binding that can be dated stylistically to the end of the sixteenth century. These distinctive and highly prized bindings are most closely associated with bookbinders working in Paris between about 1570 and 1630, and are identifiable by their geometrical “strapwork” designs, which are usually comprised of ribbons that feature a single gilt line on one side, and a double line on the other.1 The way that this design cue creates the illusion of relief on the surface of the cover is especially evident here.

This binding is particularly closely related to those associated with Clovis Ève (active between 1583 and 1633), a famous French bookbinder who became the fifth official “relieur du roi” (binder to the King), following the retirement of his father, Nicolas Ève. Clovis served the French Kings Henri III, Henri IV, and Louis XIII, producing some truly spectacular showpiece bindings. Nevertheless, attributions to him of simpler bindings such as ours remain controversial. Still, there are some clear similarities between our binding and others thought to have been made by Ève fils. Compare the layout and shape of the rectangular compartments and semicircular notches along the border with this example from the University of Amsterdam Special Collections Library, described by Pam van Holthe:

Le Psaultier, qui est le livre des Pseaumes de David, declarez, par breves annotations & gloses entre les versets [Lyon] : [Jean de Tournes], 1559 (bound with other texts). Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam Special Collections Library, OTM: Band 2 D 12 (1), upper and lower covers

Or this, a less well-preserved specimen from the British Library (which similarly encloses a French Book of Hours):

Heures a lusaige de Romme toutes au long. Sans riens requerir. Auec plusieurs suffraiges et orations tāt en latin que en francoys nouuelement Imprimes a paris (Paris: 1521). London, British Library, c41c13, upper and lower covers

But who would have commissioned such an ornate (and costly) binding over a century after this book was produced? The answer is provided by medallions found at the centers of the upper and lower covers on our book, which contain the letters “LUCRECE” and “DU GUE” respectively. This first and last name is undoubtedly identifiable with the noted printeress Lucrèce Dugué (1544–1615), daughter of Perrette Edinthon and Jean Dugué (the French King’s organist).2 As the widow of Robert I Ballard (c. 1525–1588) and mother of Pierre I Ballard (c. 1580–1636), Dugué continued her husband’s printing firm, which had the monopoly on all forms of musical printing at the time. During the last decades of her lifetime, she continued to run the family shop located at the sign of Mount Parnassus on the Rue Saint-Jean de Beauvais, right in the heart of the Parisian book trade. It is, of course, unsurprising that such a well-connected figure would have had access to the services of a prestigious binding workshop, even for a personal devotional book. But it is likewise interesting that the owner of a firm so invested in the technology of print would opt to embellish a manuscript Book of Hours which must have appeared dated at the time. However, as we have seen with other sixteenth-century owners, the cachet of beautiful manuscripts remained strong, well into the age of moveable type!

Not wanting to judge a book exclusively by its cover, next week we’ll look more closely at some of the earlier evidence of use found within this book.

http://openn.library.upenn.edu/Data/0031/1945_65_11/data/web/9139_0304_web.jpg   http://openn.library.upenn.edu/Data/0031/1945_65_11/data/web/9139_0305_web.jpg   http://openn.library.upenn.edu/Data/0031/1945_65_11/data/web/9139_0306_web.jpg   http://openn.library.upenn.edu/Data/0031/1945_65_11/data/web/9139_0307_web.jpg
1945‑65‑11, view of spine, fore-edge, head, and tail