Question of the Week: “What will you do when he comes at you with the sickle?”

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 31/52

Denis Faucher, manuscript additions to Hendrik Herp, Speculum perfectionis (Mirror of Perfection), Venice: Sabio, 1524; University of Pennsylvania, Ms. Codex 1620, fols. 1v, miniature of a Nun on a Cross, and 3r, miniature of the Mememto mori, both by Denis Faucher, after 1524

As we approach the end of October, we interrupt our regularly scheduled blog posts to bring you a seasonally appropriate reminder of the grisly fate that awaits us all. This week, we delve into an item from the University of Pennsylvania’s holdings (not formally within the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis project but closely associated with it, and now accessible through the main BiblioPhilly interface), a sammelband or hybrid volume that consists of a printed book sandwiched between two manuscript gatherings. Despite the extraordinarily morbid imagery present in these hand-written and illuminated sections, the book in question has been little studied to-date, despite the fact that we can name its author (who was also its scribe and artist) with great precision.

The printed core of the book is an edition of the fifteenth-century Franciscan mystic Hendrik Herp’s Mirror of Perfection issued in Venice in 1524. The two eight-folio manuscript quires that bookend it contain texts authored by Denis Faucher (1487–1562), a mystical poet and Benedictine monk with close links to the South of France. Faucher’s authorship was deduced by Norman P. Zacour and Rudolf Hirsch in their catalogue of the manuscripts of the University of Pennsylvania, published in 1965.1 They were able to locate the hymn to Saint Catherine, which begins “Festa lux mundo rutilans coruscat…” in the standard index of hymns, Ulysse Chevalier’s Repertorium hymnologicum.2 At numerous points in the manuscript portions, the rubrics tell us that the poems were written by a certain “Dionysius,” all but confirming Faucher’s identity.

Surviving information on Faucher’s biography is quite rich, and corroborates the notion that he actually transcribed and decorated his own devotional manuals.3 He was born in Arles and began his religious vocation in 1508 at the Benedictine monastery in Polinore, near Mantua, but was based for the majority of his career at the Abbey of Lérins off the coast of Provence, where he was elected prior in 1548. This storied island monastery was the subject of early monographs by Vincenzio Barrali (1613) and Mariano Armellini (1731), which discuss Faucher at length, and mention his activities as a spiritual advisor and provider of edifying religious texts to various mentors.4 Most fascinatingly, these sources also mention Faucher’s work as a scribe and johnny-come-lately illuminator.
The Abbey of Lérins, France (photo: Alberto Fernandez Fernandez, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0)

The poems by Faucher present in the sammelband are mostly addressed to a scholasticate, a nun in the training period following the novitiate, and concern the attainment of spiritual perfection in the world. While hybrid books of print and manuscript could be useful for obtaining a customized set of literary texts, or for pairing mass-produced images with favorite prayers, they could also allow for spiritual advisors to add tailored content suited to pupils, in a manner reminiscent of the earliest thirteenth-century Books of Hours. Faucher’s interest in embellishing pre-existing books is confirmed by an intriguing manuscript, signed by him, that surfaced on the market in 2018. Formerly in the collection of Arthur and Charlotte Vershbow (see Riverrun Books & Manuscripts, Hastings-on-Hudson, catalogue 2, 2018, item 1), and now in a European private collection, it consists of an apparently unfinished fifteenth-century Book of Hours that has had its miniatures and border decorations entirely painted by Faucher in a colorful style that can be described as a mid-sixteenth-century re-imagining of a century-old illuminated book. Faucher’s intervention is attested by an autograph inscription, dated 9 April 1554, in which he offers the book to his brother Jean on condition that it remain in the family in perpetuity (“Semper apud Faucherios maneant.”). Remarkably, this Book of Hours is mentioned in Barrali’s early-seventeenth-century biography of Faucher. Barrali even transcribed a portion of the inscription, and stated that the book was not only illuminated, but also written, by Faucher (“Haec sunt horaria preces manu propria ipsius Dionisii scriptae & miris figuris penicillo subtiliter adornatae….”).5

As seen at the top of the post, Faucher’s poems in the Penn sammelband are accompanied by two striking images. The style is extremely close to the miniatures in the aforementioned Book of Hours, confirming that Faucher’s hand was responsible not just for the images but also for the texts as well. The first image shows a nun in a black habit being crucified, with a snake biting a heart, representing sin, entwined around her left arm (fol. 1v). The lit oil lamp the nun holds in her right hand represents faith and refers to the parable of the Wise Virgins (who tended their lamps). This remarkable iconography merits further study, as apart from its brief mention (and illustration–thanks to digitization) in a recent article on the figure of the crucified abbess in the New World, it is totally absent from art-historical literature.6

Ms. Codex 1620, fol. 1v, detail of miniature of a Nun on a Cross by Denis Faucher, after 1524

Arrayed around the nun are illusionistic scrolls with quotations from scripture: Matthew 25:41: “Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire;” Matthew 5:16: “So let your light shine before men;” Psalm 118:120: “Pierce thou my flesh with thy fear;” Psalm 118:37: “Turn away my eyes that they may not behold vanity;” Psalm 140:3: “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth: and a door round about my lips;” 1 Corinthians 15:56: “Now the sting of death is sin;” Luke 12:35: “Let your loins be girt;” Psalm 118:116: “Uphold me according to thy word, and I shall live: and let me not be confounded in my expectation”; Jeremiah 2:2: “I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals;” Psalm 118:101: “I have restrained my feet from every evil way: that I may keep thy words/order;” and Galatians 2:19: “I am nailed with Christ to the Cross” (with a feminine ending in Latin).

The four-line poem below can be roughly translated as: “The heavenly bridegroom, so that he could appear beautiful / Made this likeness of a chaste girl for your eyes. / Do not be pleased by her face, or lose your shame in front of what is shown here, / only pray now for those who are dead.”

Ms. Codex 1620, fol. 1v, detail of poem

The second image (fol. 3r) consists of a somewhat more conventional memento mori, at least pictorially. A medallion hangs from a stalk of lilies, its frame decorated with bones and pansies (pensées in French). At its center, a skull in a circular mirror is intended to invoke a sense of self-consciousness in the viewer’s mind. The scroll above the image bears a further moralizing extract from the Bible: “In all thy works, remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin” (Ecclesiasticus 7:40). Similar scriptural quotations are found surrounding a painted skull in a manuscript addition to a printed Book of Hours of 1491 now in Cambridge University Library (Inc.5.D.1.19 [2530], fol. 4r).

Ms. Codex 1620, fol. 3r, detail of miniature of the Mememto mori by Denis Faucher, after 1524

The two vertical scrolls, however, bear a unique message, likely authored by Faucher himself: “If you tremble in fear looking at this image of death, what will you do when he comes at you with the sickle?” (“Si fremis inspiciens mortis turbata figuram, quid facies cum te falx truculenta trahet?”). Interestingly, the verb faucher in French means to mow, reap, or knock down, and it comes from the Latin root falx (sickle, scythe) used in the verse. One wonders whether the author was indulging in a macabre pun. The large scroll directly beneath the image contains a quatrain that, in Barrali’s early-seventeenth-century history of Lérins,7 was ascribed to Faucher and said to be dedicated to “Anna de Boufremont,” possibly Anne de Bauffremont-Sennecey Abbess of Tarascon, suggesting that this otherwise obscure figure may have been the recipient of the present hybrid book, early in her career.

The final scroll is an adaptation of Saint Bonaventure’s exhortation: “When death comes, no one accepts it willingly, except for he who prepared for it, while living, with good works” (“Mortem venientem nemo libenter accipit, nisi qui se ad ipsam, dum viveret, bonis operibus praeparavit”).

Ms. Codex 1620, fol. 3r, detail of scroll

All good things to keep in mind in the run up to All Saints’ Day. Happy Halloween!


A Book of Hours Fifty Years Older than Previously Thought

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 30/52

Book of Hours, Use of Bourges, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 87, fols. 6v–7r (end of Calendar and beginning of Gospel Lessons)

Sometimes, scholars can become fixated on a dated inscription in a manuscript, which can lead them to ignore other chronological evidence. In a Book of Hours now in the Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 87, the lower pastedown includes a signed ownership note by the prominent Bourges patrician and book collector Jean Lallemant the Younger (ca. 1481–1548), dated to 12 July 1544.

Lewis E 87, lower pastedown (with detail)

Ever since the publication of the de Ricci Census and the catalogue of European manuscripts in the Free Library, this has been taken erroneously as the date of the book, which is in fact significantly earlier. While the book’s miniatures have been excised, which doesn’t help with establishing a proper date, the script and decoration indicate a date of circa 1490-1510, the heyday of devotional manuscript production in Bourges. The calendar includes obvious references to the capital of the Berry: the feast of Saint William, archbishop of Bourges (fol. 1r, 10 January) and the dedication of the Cathedral of Bourges are both highlighted in blue (fol. 3r, 5 May). Prior to the beginning of the Hours of the Virgin, a rubric on folio 7v mentions the Use of Bourges. Most strikingly, every remaining text page in the manuscript has been decorated with a shaded gold border on the three outer sides, a blue cherub at the outer margin and two red seraphim above and below the text respectively.

Jean Lallemant the Younger or le jeune was a member of a prominent family of Bourges patricians, among which were several bibliophiles.1 His grandfather, Guillaume Lallemant l’aïeul (d. 1474), was a merchant with close ties to the famous banker and purveyor of luxury goods Jacques Coeur, whose great urban residence survives to this day in Bourges. Jean Lallemant the Younger’s father, Jean Lallemant l’ancien (d. 1494), served as receiver general of Normandy, an important post in the kingdom’s financial administration. Our Jean Lallemant the Younger was treasurer general of the Languedoc region of France from 1505 to 1521. Interestingly, he owned several other manuscripts, including a Book of Hours now in The Hague. His older brother, also named Jean, owned a Book of Hours that was dismembered and is held at several institutions, including the British Library in London (add. MS 39641), The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore (W. 459), and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (Marlay Cuttings, Fr. 7). The book’s calendar, today in a private collection, is illustrated with putti that share a certain resemblance to those in our book.

In a forthcoming post, we will attempt to prove who painted the charming blue and red angels that populate the margins of our Book of Hours, a task made easier by the earlier date range.


Italian with a French Accent: A Prayer Book Made in Occupied Milan?

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 29/52

Prayer Book, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 207, fol. 2r (miniature of the Annunciation)

Up to this point, many of this blog’s posts have dealt with Books of Hours, those ubiquitous devotional tools of the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. This week, we are dealing with a type of book that is somewhat harder to classify. While it might resemble a traditional Book of Hours by means of its format, it does not contain the core text–the Hours of the Virgin–that generally defines the genre. Nor does it contain a calendar, Office of the Dead, or Gospel Lessons that we would habitually find in a straightforward horae.

This intriguing and relatively short volume of fifty-two folios, which can called a Prayer Book for lack of a better term, is a good example of a customized, one-off product commissioned to suit the devotional needs of a user who might have already owned a full Book of Hours, or required something more portable. The first four texts contain six-line, abridged versions of the prayers found in the Hours of the Virgin (fols. 1r, 2r, 3r, and 4r), perhaps a kind of aide mémoire to the longer Offices. These are introduced by non-chronological miniatures of the Presentation in the Temple, Annunciation (shown above), Assumption, and Birth of the Virgin.

Lewis E 207, fol. 1r (miniature of the Presentation in the Temple)

Lewis E 207, fol. 3r (miniature of the Assumption)

Lewis E 207, fol. 4r (miniature of the Birth of the Virgin)

The four radiant but somewhat child-like miniatures reflect, at some remove, the soft style championed by Leonardo da Vinci’s followers Marco d’Oggiono and Bernardino Luini in the region surrounding Milan during the first two decades of the sixteenth century. To the four initial abbreviated prayers are added the Obsecro te, with an inhabited initial of the Virgin and Child (fol. 5r), the Missus est and Te deprecor prayers, and finally the Seven Penitential Psalms together with the Litany and other accompanying prayers (fols. 21r–51r), also introduced with an inhabited initial.

Lewis E 207, fol. 5r (detail of inhabited initial with Virgin and Child)

Lewis E 207, fol. 21r (detail of inhabited initial with King David in Prayer)

The most innovative aspect of the book, however, is found in the illusionistically painted sprigs of violas, carnations, and other flowers surrounding the four miniatures, painted so as to appear threaded through cuts in the parchment. This clever visual device is much more closely associated with Netherlandish manuscript illumination, particularly work from the so-called Ghent-Bruges school.1

The unusual style of the miniatures and the idiosyncratic texts make it difficult to place the book chronologically. However, a clue might lie in the litany, which includes saints more typical of France, including Denis, Eustache, and Lubin, which might indicate that the book was produced in Milan during the period of French domination, from 1500 to 1512. Such a date would accord well with the style of the miniatures, and provides us with at least some means for anchoring this mysterious book in its original context.

Lewis E 207, fols. 40v and 41v (litany including saints Denis, Eustache, and Lubin) 


A Leopard that Changes its Spots: A Hand-Decorated Incunable from the Library of Jean Chardalle

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 28/52

Penn Libraries call number: Inc A-1232 Folio
Saint Augustine, De civitate Dei (City of God), University of Pennsylvania, Inc A-1232 Folio, fol. 13r

This week’s BiblioPhilly manuscript “discovery” is a bit of a misnomer on all three counts, as it A) amplifies an observation previously made by another scholar, B) relates to an item held at the University of Pennsylvania–an institution not officially included in the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis grant–and C) concerns an early printed book, rather than a manuscript! Nevertheless, it is worth including in the blog since A) the discovery was enabled by an innovative online project, B) the item will be included in next year’s post-BiblioPhilly exhibition at Penn, and C) the incunable in question was decorated by hand with high quality initials and bar borders.

So, we are still dealing with an illuminated book, even though it is printed. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, the advent of the printing press did not diminish the demand for skilled illuminators. In fact, there was an explosion of available work, as innumerable inset spaces left for initials in printed works still had to be completed by hand. The book we are looking at today is an example of the involvement of traditional illuminators with the new technology, a phenomenon well studied by Lilian Armstrong and others. It is a copy of Saint Augustine’s City of God from 1470, the third edition of the work to be printed in Italy, by the German printers Conradus Sweynheym and Arnoldus Pannartz (a fourth had been produced by Johann Mentelin, the first printer to settle in Strasbourg, in 1468). These two business partners were the first to establish a press outside of German-speaking lands, at the Benedictine abbey of Subiaco in 1464/65. By 1467, they had moved in search of greater economic opportunities to Rome, where our volume was printed. Adapting to their trans-alpine audience, Sweynheym and Pannartz abandoned the Gothic typeface used in Northern Europe, developing a semi-Roman font at Subiaco and finally a fully Roman version upon their move to the Papal city (you can see that this is the typeface they used here).

Inc A-1232 Folio
Inc A-1232 Folio, fol. 13r (detail of illuminated initial G)

Unusually, and perhaps uniquely, this incunable’s secondary decoration was added not in Italy but in France. The bar borders and illuminated initials in deep blue and reddish-mauve are all typical of northern French illumination of the 1470s. The single historiated initial G on the first page of the prologue depicts the mitred Saint Augustine blessing the kneeling Marcellinus of Carthage, his friend and the dedicatee of the City of God, who is shown holding a heart in his hands indicative of their bond. In style, the two figures are reminiscent of miniatures produced in Paris by the workshop of François Le Barbier, a prolific artist (previously known as “Maître François”) responsible for illuminating a large number of Books of Hours and theological manuscripts in a somewhat rote style.1 Le Barbier and his associates illuminated three much more elaborate French translations of the City of God: one for the lieutenant general of Paris, Charles de Gaucourt (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS fr. 18–19); one for the king’s secretary, Mathieu Beauvarlet (Paris, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, MS 246); and one for the recalcitrant Duke of Nemours, Jacques d’Armagnac (vol. 1: The Hague, Museum Meermanno, 10 A 11; vol. 2: Nantes, Bibliothèque municipale, Ms. 181).

In the lower margin of the prologue page, a rectangular strip of paper has been excised and replaced with a patch bearing an armorial escutcheon surrounded by a green wreath. The arms appear to show a Lion’s golden face against a blue background. This would seem to be a potentially popular choice for a coat-of-arms, but a head-on lion’s head is almost unheard of in European heraldry, and my first instinct was that this was a fictitious emblem, added to enhance the appearance or price of the book at a later date.

Penn Libraries call number: Inc A-1232 Folio
Inc A-1232 Folio, fol. 13r (detail of coat-of-arms)

However, I noticed that the book’s heraldry had previously been discussed on the web as part of the Provenance Online Project. This is a lightweight crowdsourced initiative started at the University of Pennsylvania whereby simple, cellphone photos of unknown annotations, bookstamps, bookplates and other heraldic identifiers are shared online via Flickr, a free photo posting utility. Users around the world are then encouraged to identify the owners. Luckily, the arms in our book were identified by none other than Martin Davies, former curator of incunabula at the British Library and a leading authority on early printing.

As Davies pointed out in a reply to the POP posting, the arms display the face of a leopard, not a lion! They are, in heraldic terms: azure, a leopard’s face or (in French: d’azur à la tête de léopard d’or). This unique animal iconography belongs to Jean Chardalle of Marville, (Johannes Chardallus in Latin) who served as Canon of the Cathedral of Metz from 1475 to 1502. Described as a “noble seigneur d’Église, homme sage docte et scientifique personne” by the contemporary chronicler Philippe de Vigneulles, Chardalle was a prolific book collector, and around thirty-five incunables and fifteen manuscripts have been identified as belonging to him by Pierre-Édouard Wagner.2 This copy of the City of God represents a new addition to this impressive tally, and is all the more important owing to the devastating loss of nearly half of the Municipal Library of Metz’s manuscript and incunable holdings during the Second World War, incuding many books that had belonged to Chardalle. This is indeed a case where prior dispersal has led to survival.

Among the incunables Chardalle owned, most are Italian and bear Italian decoration. Chardalle presumably purchased these on ecclesiastical trips to Rome. The style of the roundel in the City of God is also Italian, contrasting with the Parisian initials. It closely resembles the heraldic devices on other books he brought back from Italy, for example two separate texts by Juan de Torquemada, a Commentum in psalmos David (Verdun, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 84), and a De potestate Ecclesia (Metz, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 104). The evidence from our book suggests that Chardalle purchased extra versions of his coat-of-arms while abroad for insertion into his books.

DGo8WPeXYAAIR2h   chardalle
Juan de Torquemada, Commentum in psalmos David, Verdun, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 84 (image tweeted by Michaël George) and Juan de Torquemada, De potestate Ecclesia, Metz, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 104, fol. 1r (image from Pierre-Édouard Wagner in Pierre Louis, ed., Épreuves du temps, 200 ans de la bibliothèque de Metz, 1804–2004 (Metz: Bibliothèques-Médiathèques de la Ville de Metz, 2004), 126.

Though most versions of his coat of arms show five thistles issuing from the Leopard’s mouth (the word for thistle in French is chardon, a play on his surname), here this feature is absent. The same is true of the arms in a fine manuscript copy of Augustine’s works (comprising the Meditationes, Manuale, Enchiridion, and De fide, but not the De civitate dei) from the Cathedral Treasury of Metz, where it accompanies a striking image of Chardalle in prayer before the Crucifixion (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 9545, fol. 1r).


Saint Augustine, Meditationes, Manuale, Enchiridion, and De fide, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 9545, fol. 1r (with detail of coat-of-arms)