Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 18/52
Among the trove of great manuscripts from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, are several richly illuminated Books of Hours. One of these, Lehigh Codex 18, is particularly interesting because of the distinctive style of its elaborate miniatures, which indicate that the book was produced in France, likely in Lyon, in the second decade of the sixteenth century. As the thirteen large miniatures are particularly charming (and totally unpublished!), it seems appropriate to display them in their entirety for the reader. These miniatures are surrounded by rather inventive two-level all’antica architectural frames painted in shell gold (gold powder mixed into a binding medium, as opposed to gold leaf), with the three lines of intervening text transformed into illusionistic scrolls or banderoles. The miniature of the Arrest of Christ, shown above, is the first of this type within the book. It follows the vignette-illustrated calendar and introduces the Passion According to Saint John. Next come the miniatures traditionally found in the Hours of the Virgin.
Lehigh Codex 18, fols. 21r (large miniature of the Annunciation and bas-de-page vignette showing Musician Angels) and 33v (large miniature of the Visitation with a Handmaiden and bas-de-page vignette showing Joseph and Mary traveling with a Handmaiden)
Lehigh Codex 18, fols. 41v (large miniature of the Nativity and bas-de-page vignette showing Traveling Shepherds) and 45r (large miniature of the Annunciation to the Shepherds and bas-de-page vignette showing Two Shepherds Speaking)
Lehigh Codex 18, fols. 50v (large miniature of the Presentation in the Temple and bas-de-page vignette showing Two Prophets) and 53v (large miniature of the Flight into Egypt and bas-de-page vignette showing the Miracle of the Wheat Field)
Lehigh Codex 18, fol. 59r (large miniature of the Coronation of the Virgin and bas-de-page vignette showing Musician Angels)
We then have the two habitual miniatures for the Hours of the Cross and Hours of the Holy Spirit.
Lehigh Codex 18, fols. 71r (large miniature of the Carrying of the Cross and bas-de-page vignette showing the Flagellation) and 74r (large miniature of Pentecost and bas-de-page vignette showing Saint John the Evangelist and the Virgin Meet a Group of Men)
A striking miniature of Bathsheba illustrates the Penitential Psalms.
Lehigh Codex 18, fol. 77r (large miniature of David and Bathsheba with an Attendant and bas-de-page vignette showing David and Bathsheba with Onlookers)
The “Three Living and Three Dead” iconography prefaces the Office of the Dead.
Lehigh Codex 18, fol. 91r (large miniature of the Three Living and Three Dead and bas-de-page vignette showing the Raising of Lazarus)
Finally, the first suffrage, dedicated to the Trinity, is illustrated with a somewhat unusual depiction of an isomorphic God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, surmounted by a shared, lobed crown.
Lehigh Codex 18, fol. 123v (large miniature with isomorphic Trinity Holding an Orb and bas-de-page vignette showing Musical Angels)
Who painted these minute masterpieces from the early sixteenth century? While we might not be able to identify the person by name conclusively, the artist’s hand is identifiable in a large corpus of illuminated manuscripts. The miniatures in our book are practically identical in style to those of the so-called Master of the Entry of Francis I, the anonymous illuminator so-named after a manuscript now in Wolfenbüttel, Germany, and which contains fascinating illustrations of temporary “tableaux vivants” set-up by the citizens of Lyon throughout the city to greet the French King in July of 1515 as he embarked on his first military campaign to Italy (Herzog August Bibliothek, Cod. Guelf. 86.4 Extrav.). These ephemeral civic displays were an important part of late Medieval and Renaissance ceremonial culture, and high-ranking artists were often called upon to assist in planning and organization. The artist was active in the city of Lyon from about 1485 to 1515. While he remains anonymous, Elizabeth Burin suggested that he may be identifiable with the documented scribe and illuminator Antoine Pingaud. Tania Lévy, on the other hand, posited that he might be one and the same with the glass painter Jean Ramel. To-date, some twenty-five manuscripts containing his work have been identified, including thirteen books of hours. Miniatures in a further Book of Hours, currently with Les Enluminures, may be by members of his workshop. The Lehigh manuscript represents a new and exciting addition to this substantial body of work.
To get to know the artist’s style, it is best to look first at his eponymous manuscript. The most memorable image from the Wolfenbüttel codex extends across two pages and shows a magnificent “Ship of State” in the waters of the Rhone, an allegory for Francis’ reign. On the left, Charles III of Bourbon is astride the winged stag with his flaming sword, leading the warship, which is in turn commanded by the young king from the forecastle. Riding as passengers are the Queen, Claude of France, and her sister Renée. Steering the ship from the poop deck is the Marshal of France, Jean Jaquez. A divine putto, Zephyr, fills the sails with a bellows from the crow’s nest. Obviously, this remarkable image is highly specific and doesn’t lend itself easily to stylistic comparison. But other images within the book allow for a closer comparison to the somewhat more commonplace iconographies found within the Lehigh Book of Hours.
Cod. Guelf. 86.4 Extrav., fols. 11v (full-page miniature showing Le Clos de France) and 18r (full-page miniature showing Le Baptème de Clovis)
A detailed comparison of our image of the Trinity with the blessing God the Father from folio 18r of the Wolfenbüttel manuscript, for example, shows an identical approach the facial construction, with straight eyebrows, a long vertical stroke to shade the right side of the nose, askance eyes, beards underscored by a black line on one side only, etc…. Note the identical design of the emanating gold rays as well. Clearly, we are dealing with the same painter, perhaps only a few years apart.
Another stylistic comparison, this time with a Book of Hours by the Master of the Entry of Francis I today in San Marino (Huntington Library, HM 1181), shows marked similarities between the two Annunciations. While they do not follow exactly the same model (our manuscript shows a kneeling rather than sitting Virgin Mary), the similarities are indisputable, right down to the colors of the floor tiles, the textiles of the canopy, the gold highlights on the virgin’s robe, the angel Gabriel’s brocade, and the view through to the green space beyond. Note also how the stylish frame in the San Marino Annunciation echoes elements from several of the frames in the Lehigh book, albeit in a different combination.
Though we know much about the artist’s œuvre, if not his name, Lehigh Codex 18 provides no secure evidence as to the identity of its original owner. Though the book’s much more recent red velvet binding is decorated with elaborate filigree mounts incorporating the niello arms of the great Italian scholar, poet, and prelate Cardinal Pietro Bembo (1470-1547), these are likely a spurious nineteenth-century addition. Thus, the manuscript and its miniatures provide a good illustration of how patient art-historical connoisseurship and stylistic analysis can often help us understand a context that is all but unrecoverable through other means.
Lehigh Codex 18, upper and lower covers with filigree mounts and niello arms of Cardinal Pietro Bembo