Nau, Naulet, Noël: Part I (a poem by Olivier Maillard)

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 36/52

Noels (Book of Christmas Carols in French), Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 211, fols. 17v (detail).

As the holiday season approaches, it seems appropriate to devote a pair of posts to a lovely, if little-known gem of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s collection of manuscripts. This charming and well-used manuscript on paper contains an anthology of lyrics for Christmas carols, or Noels, written principally in French and dating to the 1520s. The book was acquired by the Free Library of Philadelphia in June 1955 from H.P. Kraus in New York, and Kraus’ catalogue 75 of that year remains the most substantial existing description of the manuscript.1 As the author of that catalogue description wrote, “it will be a gratifying task for a scholar interested in French popular poetry to study the present manuscript very thoroughly.” In the sixty-five years since the appearance of the Kraus catalogue, this assignment has not, to my knowledge, been completed! The book is known to local audiences in Philadelphia because its contents have been used as the basis for a series of period music concerts by the local Renaissance Band, Piffaro. However, the anthology is entirely absent from any scholarly literature on French Renaissance music or art, which is a shame. The forty-four carols appear to be composed of certain well-known songs represented in other manuscript anthologies, such as Oxford, Keble College, MS 33 (see Parkes 1979, 117–26),2 but also present are several unique or unrecorded texts. Many of the songs are included  in later printed works, such as one issued in Le Mans around 1590—Paris, BnF, Rothschild MS 2982—which purports to contain traditional Christmas songs “les plus requis du commun peuple” (“the most sought-after by the common folk”). The use of the regional Angevin terms “nau” and its diminutive “naulet” for Noël, as well as the notarial document reused as a wrapper mentioning Nantes, point to the Western Loire Valley as the region of production and use, indeed not far from Le Mans, where the Rothschild pamphlet was printed.3

The carols included in the anthology are of course mostly anonymous and lack any kind of musical notation. Instead, the particular melody to be followed is usually singled out at the beginning of the carol. Upon examining the manuscript last year, I noticed that one carol, “Il fault mourir à ce coup cy,” is attributed by an inscription to its author Olivier Maillard (ca. 1420–1502; fol. 41v), the famous populist preacher active during the time of Louis XI and Charles VIII. This well-known poem consists of a rather macabre warning of the impending last judgement, even though it is to be sung, rather ironically and self-consciously, to the rhythm of a rather carefree bergeronnette savoysienne (a shepherdess’ ditty).4 Its presence here is a remarkable eschatological departure from the pleasant, festive Christmas songs that otherwise fill the book’s pages!

Lewis E 211, fol. 41v
Musical setting from Loewen, “Olivier Maillard in an Age of Reform.”

Beyond its lyrics, the volume is notable for its twenty-five vividly drawn, watercolor-tinted scenes added to the blank marginal spaces surrounding the text. The rest of this post will examine these, while next week’s post will be dedicated to another lyrical discovery. The images, which could themselves be studied further, exhibit an idealizing, bucolic sentiment, combining sacred scenes (and undoubted references to Nativity plays) with rustic details of shepherds and peasants preparing meals and playing music. At the beginning of the volume (fol. 1r) is the most formal of such illustrations, consisting of a full-page Nativity miniature showing three attendant shepherds and one shepherdess (with a curious wide-brimmed hat) alongside the Holy Family.

Lewis E 211, fol. 1r

In the frame enclosing the miniature we find the Marian Antiphon, usually associated with Easter rather than Christmas: “Regina celi letare, alleluya; Quia quem meruisti portare, alliluya; Resurrexit sicut dixit, alleluya; Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluya; amen, amen” (“Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia; The Son you merited to bear, alleluia; Has risen as he said, alleluia; Pray to God for us, alleluia”). The two-dozen  remaining illustrations (counting across-the-gutter compositions as one) are certainly by the same artist but are unframed and often extend to the edges of the paper, which has been trimmed on account of heavy use. These illustrations are drawn in a loose and economical style, but would seem to be the work of a talented artist, though whether he/she was a formally trained professional remains up for discussion. The lively scenes, a study in pastoral life of the 1520s, are worth examining one by one, especially as the blog format permits an endless display of illustrations! Indeed, they could be transformed into wonderful advent calendar of sorts. They represent:

The slaughter of a boar (fol. 4r).

A man with a plate of food drinking from a gourd (fol. 5r).

A man holding food and drink (fol. 6r).

A man carving meat with a dog watching from the right (fol. 8r);

An upright goat near a tree and a man playing bagpipes with a dog alongside (fol. 9r).

A man with a staff and a dog on a leash (fol. 10r).

A man and woman with staffs resting, a man standing holding a staff, and an angel with a banderole announcing “Paix est criée” (fol. 11v).

A shepherdess resting with her sheep, a shepherd resting against a rock, and a shepherdess standing with a staff (fol. 12r).

A shepherd standing with a staff and a man playing hurdy-gurdy with a boy (fol. 13r).

A man with a pointed hat (fol. 14v).

The Flight into Egypt with bull and ass (fol. 15v).

A man threshing crops with a sickle and Joseph from the Flight into Egypt (fol. 16r).

A boar playing the bagpipe and two men and a woman dancing (fol. 17v).

A king and two peasants sharing a meal (fol. 19r).

A woman shearing a lamb (fol. 20v).

A prophet holding a banderole inscribed “Ecce virgo concipiet et pariet filium” (fol. 22r ).

A jester playing a flute (fol. 22v).

Another jester playing a flute (fol. 23r).

An Angel holding a banderole inscribed “Gloria in excelsis Deo” while below a man reclines in the right margin and another stands and plays the flute on the left (fol. 24r).

Two men labeled Michau and Robin facing each other across the text block (fol. 25r).

Two grayish figures, one playing the drum (fol. 26r).

A man playing the drum and the flute (fol. 26v).

A man playing a pipe to an upright goat with staff (fol. 29r).

The Temptation of Adam (fol. 30v).

The serpent and the Temptation of Eve (fol. 31r).

A man with a sword (fol. 32r).

Mary and the Christ Child (fol. 34r).

And a man and a woman playing instruments (fol. 35v).

The manuscript can be dated to ca. 1520–30 on the basis of the style of the script, marginal images, and costume, with later sixteenth-century additions to the text towards the end. The pastoral aspect of the illustrations connects them to compositions found in tapestries of this period. The rustic appearance of the figures and settings also recalls roughly contemporary treatments of Virgilian poetry, especially an illustrated French translation of the Eclogues (Paris, BnF, MS fr. 1639). The precise recipient or intended audience for such a volume, which is clearly the result of significant effort, is unknown, but if we take up the challenge posed by the author of the manuscript’s 1955 sale catalogue entry, we may be rewarded with further contextual information about the manuscript’s genesis and use.


Who was Michele Zopello?

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 35/52

Michele Zopello, Litterarum simulationis liber; University of Pennsylvania, Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection, LJS 225, fol. 1r

One of the masterpieces of the Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection at the University of Pennsylvania is the presentation copy of a work on cryptography made for Alfonso da Borgia (1378–1458) during his three-year reign as Pope Callixtus III. The text is fascinating, as it provides an unpublished and otherwise unknown insight into Renaissance systems of cyphers. Its author, a certain Michele Zopello, demonstrates two relatively primitive methods for encrypting text based on alternate words supplied in tables, to which both communicating parties would have exclusive access. In the first system, significant words in Italian beginning with one letter are simply substituted by either of two corresponding words beginning with another letter (fols. 5v–14r). Zopello provides two sample letters plain and encrypted in order to demonstrate his method in action (fols. 14v–19r). The second system is somewhat more efficient, with unique symbols representing letters (six possibilities per vowel, three per consonant), or a whole selection of important words denoting titles, place-names, and numbers (fols.19v–20r).

During his brief pontificate, Callixtus was overwhelmingly preoccupied with countering Ottoman Turkish advances in the Mediterranean, calling for a new crusade in the wake of the fall of Constantinople. This is perhaps why Zopello furnished him with such a manuscript.  But who was Michele Zopello anyway? This manuscript made three appearances in auction and dealer catalogues in the late twentieth century, but at no point was any additional detail about this mysterious author mentioned.1 The manuscript, along with Zopello’s name, has also been cited in several works on Renaissance cryptography, but without even the slimmest additional biographical details provided.2 The author seemed a person lost to history.

However, Zopello’s identity can in fact be recovered. A person with the same name was the subject of a recent article, whose author was unaware of the Schoenberg manuscript.3 Zopello, it turns out, was an obscure figure from the town of Sacile in the Veneto who had served as secretary to Duke Louis of Savoy (r. 1440–65) from 1450. Among the scarce surviving documents relating to Zopello is the record of his official secretarial appointment, which praises his knowledge of Italian affairs and military skills, as well as letters relating to his imprisonment by Francesco Sforza in the 1450s, two of which have been put online: one letter from Sforza to the podestà of Alessandria, dated 14 September 1450, and another from Sforza to Zopello himself, dated 28 December 1452, informing him of his liberation. This documented individual, however, has never before been linked to the Zopello who is mention as the author of our manuscript on its first folio, even though they are clearly the same person. Tellingly, in his Latin preface to the Litterarum simulationis, Zopello describes how codes can be used to communicate with besieged cities (fols. 1r–5r). Perhaps his earlier arrest was linked to his activities as a cryptographer.

Ironically, we know somewhat more about artist responsible for the illumination on the first folio of the manuscript. The high-quality bianchi girari or white-vine decorations of the frontispiece were created by Gioacchino di Giovanni di Gigantibus (act. ca. 1450–85). Originally from Rothenberg, this professional illuminator worked for members of the papal court from 1448 onward, and his involvement would seem to indicate that Zopello was in Rome to coordinate the production of his manuscript. The intricate border designs, inhabited by three multicolored parrots and two putti bearing the wreathed crest of Pope Callixtus (or, a bull gules upon a terrace vert, in a bordure or charged with eight flames vert), demonstrate the care that went into producing handsome exemplars of even the most arcane technical tracts, in order to catch the eye and curry the favor of the intended recipient.


Which Dr. Wickersham?

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 34/52
Antiphonal, Philadelphia, The Library Company of Philadelphia, MS 19, front cover and fol. 150v

The Library Company of Philadelphia possesses a small collection of about twenty Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, which are interesting on account of their diverse provenance histories. These manuscripts entered the institution at different times and through a variety of local collectors. Because the Library Company predates the establishment of the Free Library of Philadelphia by 160 years, many of these donations were made relatively early in the history of manuscript collecting in the United States.

An impressive but unadorned Antiphonal preserved at the Library Company of Philadelphia, MS 19, contains almost no provenance information internally, except for a label on the front pastedown stating (in handwriting) that it was presented by a certain “Dr. Wickersham,” and that it was given the Library Company shelf mark “2585 F.” Because there is no existing authoritative catalogue of the Library Company’s manuscripts, very little additional information can be associated with the book. It is described in the Supplement to the De Ricci census of manuscripts in North America as “Written in Spain, ca. 1500. Bound in orig. calf over wood boards, with metal bosses and corner-pieces,” but the prior provenance simply repeats the information on the label and the old shelf mark: “Presented by Dr. Wickersham (2585.F).”1

The Library Company of Philadelphia, MS 19, front cover and detail of Library Company of Philadelphia label

There are several possible candidates for who this Dr. Wickersham might be.2 At first I thought it could be James P. Wickersham (1825–91), a noted leader in education reform and schooling in Pennsylvania. Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, awarded Wickersham an LL. D. in 1871, so he definitely qualified as doctor later in life. He was also the US chargé d’affaires in Denmark in 1882, which might have given him the opportunity to purchase such a manuscript in Europe.

Another figure from this sprawling Pennsylvania family who might fit the bill is James Pyle Wickersham Crawford (1882–1939), who was a professor of Romance languages in the University of Pennsylvania, and a specialist in Spanish literature. After his death, May Wickersham Crawford presented her husband’s collection on the study of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish fiction and poetry to the University of Pennsylvania and endowed a fund for the acquisition of materials in the Romance languages. Might Wickersham Crawford have decided during his lifetime that this antiphonal from Spain, which doesn’t exactly qualify as literature, would be a good fit for the Library Company’s collections?

Some further sleuthing in the records of the Library Company, however, reveals that it was neither of these individuals who gifted the Antiphonal. The style of the label is typical of that used in the 1870s and 1880s by the Library Company, disqualifying Wickersham Crawford. As it turns out, the Bulletin of the Library Company for July 1883 includes a description of what would first appear to be this manuscript within a “List of the More Important Books Added since January, 1883,” under the subheading “Illuminated MSS etc.” The manuscript is described as a “folio choir book” having been “brought back from Italy by Dr. Morris S. Wickersham,” yielding us the precise identity of this mysterious donor. Apparently, the manuscript was “thought worthy of being put in a glass case at the Ridgway Branch [the Library Company’s impressive neoclassical building on Broad Street], as a notable example of Italian ecclesiastical art in the Middle Ages,” alongside other manuscripts from diverse cultures, already in the collections of the Library Company.

Bulletin of the Library Company, July 1883, p. 95

Morris S. Wickersham (1815–83) was a Philadelphia Physician, somewhat less renowned than the other Wickershams mentioned above. The details of his life are relatively scarce, but his presence in Italy is confirmed by a letter he wrote to the medical journal The Lancet in early 1881, signed from Ferrara. Further, a report from 1887 records a posthumous donation to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia of a “very curious and valuable collection” of books that he had assembled in Italy.3 Indeed, two manuscripts now in that institution were formerly in his possession: College of Physicians MS 10a 131 and MS 10a 132.

However, there is a problem, as the manuscript described in the Bulletin of the Library Company list of 1883 is said to have 186 pages (or 93 folios), contain one illuminated letter with a portrait, and bear the shelf mark “1315 F.” This description matches up precisely with another antiphonal in the Library Company, MS 7, which lacks a label with Wickersham’s name and was described as being part of the Loganian Library in the original de Ricci Census,4 suggesting that it arrived at the Library Company much earlier in the nineteenth century.

Diurnal Antiphonal, Philadelphia, The Library Company of Philadelphia, MS 7, front cover and fol. 23r

So what happened? In the 1883 list, immediately preceding the Antiphonal, two other new manuscript acquisitions are briefly described, without provenance. The first one refers to yet another Antiphonal, Library Company MS 16 (which has not been digitized on account of its size and condition). The second one refers, seemingly, to our Antiphonal, MS 19, as the dimensions match up very closely. However, the shelf mark, “7136. F,” is completely different. Were all three manuscripts gifts from Morris S. Wickersham, even if our MS 19 is the only one with a label? Was the label misapplied to our manuscript when it should have been affixed to MS 7? Or was MS 7 mistakenly described as being a gift from Wickersham when it had instead come to the Library Company much earlier? Such queries demonstrate how provenance research can often yield more questions than answers, and also how labels and published descriptions should never be considered foolproof.

Bulletin of the Library Company, July 1883, p. 94


That’s a Bullarium

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 33/52

Bullarium Augustinianum (Collection of Augustinian Bulls); University of Pennsylvania, Ms. Codex 85, fol. 1r, with border here attributed to the workshop of Giovanni Pietro da Cemmo (doc. 1474–1507)

The manuscript we are looking at today—another University of Pennsylvania manuscript—is a collection of papal decrees and bulls pertaining to the Augustinians, a mendicant order that expanded  alongside the Franciscans and Dominicans from the thirteenth century onward. The compilation begins with a series of older texts combined into a sprawling bull outlining privileges for friars of the order, the Dum fructus uberes. This work was composed at the instigation of Pope Sixtus IV in 1475, giving a fairly straightforward terminus post quem for the date of our manuscript. However, the compendium appears to be an updated version, as it includes decrees by the more recent popes, Alexander VI and Julius II, which suggest a date of around 1505–6. Interestingly, the text of the Dum fructus uberes preserved on folios 1r–31v is identical to that in another manuscript at the University of Pennsylvania, Ms. Codex 736 (fols. 1r–28v). The latter, dated to 1475 and undecorated, was destined for the Augustinian Friars of Rouen.

University of Pennsylvania, Ms. Codex 736, fol. 2v, showing the beginning of the “Sixtus…” Bull identical to that in Ms. Codex 85

Anna-Marie Eze has shown that this earlier manuscript was the model for a more elaborate manuscript now in Boston (Harvard University, Houghton Library, MS Richardson 28).1 She has also identified two further manuscripts that, like ours, contain the same compilation of papal decrees (Leiria, Biblioteca do Seminário Maior, Bulário dos Eremitas de Santo Agostinho; Bergamo, Biblioteca Civica Angelo Mai, MS Cassaf. 1.10).

The manuscript’s text is copied in two parts (fols. 1r–69v, 71r–125v) and was apparently commissioned by the Augustinian theologian and abbot Antonio Meli, for the use of a certain Joannis Angeli, likewise a friar at Crema, Lombardy (inscription on fol. 1r). We can learn some of the details of Meli’s life from the Dizionario biografico cremasco:2 he was the recipient of a doctorate from the Sorbonne, and enjoyed an illustrious career within his order, rising to the position of Vicar General in 1516. He authored a popular mystical tract, the Scala del Paradisio, as well as other devotional treatises, and became confessor to Lucrezia Borgia (1480–1519). He died in Crema in 1528.

1550_0008_weba   1550_0008_weba
Ms. Codex 85, fol. 1r, details of border scroll and placard

The book is unusually richly illuminated for this type of compendium. Folio 1r includes a dense frame of gold foliage and blue grapes set upon a pinkish-red background, in an up-to-date style for the early sixteenth century. In the right margin is a scroll that reads “Laus Deo” and a blue placard inscribed with “Fides” in gold lettering. Above is a sleek bluish-green bird, while below, in a perspectival green medallion with a blue parapet, is a bust-length portrait of a reading bishop, undoubtedly Saint Augustine.

Ms. Codex 85, fol. 1r, details of illusionistic roundel with Saint Augustine

Within the book, each new section of text begins with either a spray of multicolored vine (up to fol. 59v) or a faceted initial (from fol. 63v). The book’s second section is also introduced by a decorated border (fol. 71r), with garlands composed of berries, fruit, books, and a skull hanging illusionistically from the parchment. While the decoration is relatively crude, it nonetheless participates in the wider all’antica visual culture of the time.

Ms. Codex 85, fol. 4v, vine decoration; fol. 71r, border with hanging garlands

On the basis of strong stylistic and circumstantial evidence, the manuscript’s borders can be attributed to the workshop of Giovanni Pietro da Cemmo (doc. 1474–1507). This artist, active in the region around Crema, was more broadly known as a fresco painter, with his work as an illuminator being rediscovered only relatively recently.3 He enjoyed very close links to the city’s Augustinian convent (today the Museo Civico) in the early years of the sixteenth century, painting a refectory fresco cycle there in 1507. He also illuminated a set of seven choir books for the foundation, the writing of which had been completed by the scribe Apollonio di Calvisano in 1498 (Crema, Museo Civico, codici XVI–XXII). The refectory cycle displays bust-length figures within illusionistically angled medallions, including in a portrait of Saint Augustine, and similar motifs are found elsewhere in his monumental work.4 The third volume of the choir book set (XVIII) begins with a grand frontispiece, which, while in a more elaborate style, contains a medallion portrait of Augustine in its lower margin (fol. 1r). Giovanni Pietro’s last documented work was the illumination of an Ordo manualis, likewise for the Augustinian convent (Bergamo, Biblioteca Civica Angelo Mai, MS Cassaf. 2.3). Both this and the Sant’Agostino choir books contain distinctive hanging garland border motifs, closely reminiscent of those on folio 71r of the Bullarium.

Crema2   Crema3
Cremona, Museo Civico, cod. XIX, fol. 87v, with initial and border decorations by Giovanni Pietro da Cemmo; Bergamo, Biblioteca Civica, Cassaf. 2.3, fol. 83v, with border decorations by Giovanni Pietro da Cemmo (images from Marubbi 1992)

Cremona, Museo Civico, cod. XVIII, fol. 1r, detail of lower border decoration by Giovanni Pietro da Cemmo (image from Marubbi 1992)



A Quire of “Better” Angels (No Pun Intended)

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 32/52

Book of Hours, Use of Bourges, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 87, fol. 9r (detail)

A few weeks ago, we looked at a Book of Hours at the Free Library of Philadelphia (Lewis E 87) that bears an ownership inscription by Jean Lallemant dated to 1544, but which is fact a noticeably older book, produced around the turn of the sixteenth century. Today, we will inspect the book’s unusual border decoration more closely in an attempt to determine the identity of its illuminator. While the book is missing its eight large miniatures, the cherubs and seraphs in the margins contain just enough stylistic information to allow for an attribution. Or at least, a partial one.

Lewis E 87, fols. 6v–7r (end of Calendar and beginning of Gospel Lessons)

A quick glance at the book, and particularly at the page opening above which marks the transition between the end of the calendar and the beginning of the Gospel Lesson from John, shows that not all the six-winged creatures are of equal quality. Compare the larger, more carefully shaded, and therefore more three-dimensional angels on folios 7r to 13v with those that come before and after. For the most part, the other angels are repetitive and rote, a halfhearted attempt to emulate the vivacity of their more corpulent cousins. Note as well that this seven-folio section was originally a quire of eight folios. The missing leaf between 7 and 8, which likely had a blank recto and a full-page miniature of the Annunciation facing the beginning of the Hours of the Virgin, is signaled by the presence of a stub in the digital image and recorded by the handy collation diagrams available through the BiblioPhilly browsing interface (hats off to my colleague Dot Porter and the VisColl project).

Lewis E 87, fol. 8r (with stub of missing leaf showing in margin)

This quire, which encompassed the Gospel excerpt from John and the beginning of the Hours of the Virgin, is in some ways the most prominent in any Book of Hours. It is therefore to be expected that its marginal decoration would be assigned to the most capable artist available. The quality of the figures declines even more in the calendar and in the later portions of the book, suggesting that there might even be a third artist involved.

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Lewis E 87, “Good” seraph (fol. 13v) vs. “Bad” seraph (fol. 14v)

4288_0026_web   4288_0030_web   4288_0048_web
Lewis E 87, “Good” cherub (fol. 12r) vs. “Bad” cherub (fol. 14r) vs. “Very Bad” cherub (fol. 23r)

The best angels show all the hallmarks of a distinctive artist who dominated manuscript illumination in Bourges, the city where the Lallemant family was based, around the year 1500: the so-called Master of Spencer 6. We don’t know the illuminator’s name with absolute certainty, but this notnamen or name of convenience is based on one of his most splendid manuscripts, now housed in the Spencer Collection at the New York Public Library. The artist was first named as such by François Avril, who grouped a number of manuscripts together stylistically. Drawing on extensive archival research, Jean-Yves Ribault suggested that the artist may be identifiable with a certain Laurent Boiron, documented in Bourges between 1480 and 1510. A recent PhD thesis by Katja Airaksinen-Monier examined the illuminator’s œuvre in depth, and largely endorsed Ribault’s hypothesis.1

Book of Hours, Use of Rome; New York, New York Public Library, Spencer MS 6 (miniature of the Annunciation by the Master of Spencer 6)

Why were the other angels farmed out to one or more less talented artists? Probably to save time and money. Manuscript production in Bourges in this period was very workshop-centered. The Master of Spencer 6, in fact, collaborated frequently with the other major dynasty of illuminators in the city, the Colombe, which consisted of a father, son, and grandson team: Jean, Philibert, and François (incidentally, I’ve studied the internal dynamics of this atelier in a recent article, while Marie Jacob has examined the workshop’s approach to antiquity more broadly2). The fact that the most capable artist kept to the most important portions of the book confirms what we know to be the case from many other examples: that patrons and artists had great acuity when it came to judgments of artistic skill, even though there are virtually no contemporary documents that state this explicitly.

But can we really assign the “better” angels to the Master of Spencer 6? When settling on an attribution, one can often feel an almost subconscious connection to the artist in mind, without immediately thinking of close parallels. And yet, finding close parallels within an artist’s existing œuvre is the key to clinching an attribution unequivocally. However, I can think of no other Books of Hours with such a systematic programme of marginal cherubs and seraphs, let alone one by the Master of Spencer 6.

One very different work by the Master of Spencer 6 eventually came to mind as a potential comparison: a copy of Jean de Meung’s Sept articles de la foy lavishly illustrated with eight huge, classically-framed miniatures (London, British Library, Egerton MS 940). Though the British Library has only made two of these available online, in relatively low-quality scans, the similarities with our very much more modest marginal frolickers is apparent if we look closely at some of the details. The fantastic miniature of the Trinity has frolicking golden putti on the volutes that form the top of its frame (and an upright swaddled infant reminiscent of those on the facade of the Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence, squeezed uncomfortably into keystone position!). However, these share only a passing resemblance to our marginal figures. The closest comparisons are, unsurprisingly, in the choirs of cherubs and seraphs that crowd behind the Trinity’s throne. Though they are highlighted in gold, they share the plump, beatific features, interlocking wings, and solid mops of hair that characterize the marginal figures in the second quire of Lewis E 87.

The Trinity
Jean de Meung, Sept articles de la foy, ca. 1500; London, British Library, Egerton MS 940, fol. 2v (miniature of The Trinity by the Master of Spencer 6)

Egerton MS 940, fol. 2v (detail).

I have examined the Egerton manuscript in person and can vouch for its quality, but the digital image (which is most likely a scanned ektachrome slide) simply doesn’t do justice to the the artist’s talent, nor to its closeness with our cherubs and seraphs. Searching for a better comparison online, I was happy to find a recent partial digitization of the master’s eponymous manuscript, the aforementioned Spencer MS 6 of the New York Public Library. While the lovely double-page Annunciation is strangely missing from the digitized surrogate (I have used an older digital image above), its antitype, the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, is included in the new digitization. Now, this is a much grander composition upon which the master lavished a huge amount of attention, so the comparison is a little bit asymmetrical. Still, might this glorious red angel, menacingly showing the First Couple out of paradise with an unsheathed flaming sword, be the grown-up brother of our little seraphs? I leave it up to the reader to decide.

Spencer MS 6, fols. 1v–2r (Double-page miniature of The angel expelling Adam and Eve from Paradise, fol. 1v-2 by the Master of Spencer 6)

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Spencer MS 6, fol. 1v (detail) Lewis E 87,  fol. 7v (detail)


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!