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)

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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)


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 cicerone’s Cicero

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 27/52

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Cicero, Epistolae ad familiares (Letters to Friends), Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 66, fol. 1r

The recovery of ancient collections of letters provided new stylistic models for humanists eager to break with the old-fashioned Medieval formularies, the stilted writing manuals that had until then structured letter-writing practices. The great poet and text-hunter Francis Petrarch had uncovered Cicero’s Epistolae ad Atticum in 1345 in Verona, but it was only in 1392 that Coluccio Salutati brought to light the entire sixteen books that make up the Epistolae ad familiares. Beyond its exemplary style of Latin prose, this collection of letters provided invaluable historical information concerning the final years of the Roman Republic. The fine humanist manuscript we are looking at today, Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 66, contains a complete copy of the Epistolae ad familiares, save for the first four letters of book 16, which appear to have been omitted purposefully.

The text is written in a competent but informal humanistic cursive, somewhat at odds with the more refined tricolor square capitals that mark the beginning of each book. The frontispiece displays the type of bianchi girari decoration intertwined with the gilded initial and set against tri-colored background fills that is the hallmark of well-produced humanist manuscripts and inclunables. The writing of the book was completed in Ferrara on 12 March 1468 by a certain Gregorio Martinello de Buccassolo, as noted in the closing colophon on folio 174v: “M.cccc. lxviij. die xij. Martij Ferrariae hora ui quarta uigesima per me Gregorium de Martinellis de Buccassolo”.

Lewis E 66, fol. 174v

Lewis E 66, fol. 174v (detail of colophon)

The escutcheon in the lower margin of folio 1r, also surrounded by florid vinework, was never filled-in. During a recent visit to the Free Library’s Rare Book Department with colleagues from the Kislak Center’s Steven Miller Conservation Laboratory, we attempted to use portable UV lighting to decipher what looked like a rubbed inscription in this area, but to no avail. Perhaps further examination with more specialized equipment would allow us to read what looks to be a proper name, perhaps added by a later owner or by the initial owner, in anticipation of the addition of a painted coat-of-arms.

Lewis E 66, fol. 1r (detail of the unpainted escutcheon under UV light)

Little is known regarding the scribe, Gregorio Martinello, as his name does not appear in any of the usual repertories of names of Renaissance scribes. However, thanks to the wonders of digitized books, we can learn a little more about him. He appears to have been a school master in Finale Emilia, just west of Ferrara, and seems to have transcribed a copy of Federico Frezzi’s epic poem of circa 1400, the Quadriregio.1

Extract from Pietro Canneti’s Dissertazione Apologetica… Intorno al Poema de’ Quattro Regni, detto altramente il Quadriregio (Foligno: Campana, 1723), 20.


Family Resemblances, Part 2

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 26/52
A guest post by University of Pennsylvania Manuscripts Cataloging Librarian, Amey Hutchins

Carta executoria, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 241, fols. 1v–2r (large illuminated initial D, coat of arms; facing text page)

As Richard L. Kagan explains in Lawsuits and Litigants in Castile,1 minors (under the age of 25) and women of any age were not allowed to litigate on their own behalf in the Castilian courts. The exception to the rule about women was that widows were allowed to bring lawsuits, which meant that they could protect their dowries from creditors of their dead husbands. One of the cartas executorias at the Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 241, records an example of a widow filing a pleito de hidalguía, the lawsuit by a private individual to prove a claim of nobility. Her name first appears as “Marí Lopez de Colmenares muger de Pedro de Matienzo ya defunto vezína de la dicha vílla de Carrión” (Marí Lopez de Colmenares, wife of Pedro de Matienzo already deceased, resident of the town of Carrión, fol. 2r).

This carta executoria was probably quite plain in its original form, with the floral borders added later. For comparison, simple pairs of diagonal lines like these in the upper margin of another, less extravagant, carta executoria,  UPenn Ms. Codex 74:

Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, UPenn Ms. Codex 74, fol. 6v

…are visible under the borders in Lewis E 241:

Lewis E 241, fol. 17r

…and the notarial marks like these at the bottom of each page in UPenn Ms. Codex 74:

UPenn Ms. Codex 74, fol. 6v

…have been roughly avoided by the later decoration in Lewis E 241:

Lewis E 241, fol. 17r

At the end of the text of the carta executoria, the later decoration does not fill the lower margin, in order not to cover the title-like summary at the end, where the name of Marí Lopez de Colmenares appears again, slightly damaged:

Lewis E 241, fol. 28r

The full-page illuminations in Lewis E 241 are at the end of the manuscript, not the beginning, and this departure from the usual order, together with the later date of the decoration, makes the shadowy double portrait at the end of the manuscript (fol. 30r) a bit enigmatic.

Lewis E 241, fols. 29v–30r

Lewis E 241, fol. 30r (detail)

Is it a retrospective portrait of Marí and Pedro? A portrait of their son García de Matienzo (named in a later addition on fol. 28v), with his wife? Or another member of the same family?

With thanks to Richard Kagan, Johns Hopkins University; Scotland Long, University of Pennsylvania; and Francis Turco, Temple University, for their assistance.

Family Resemblances, Part 1

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 25/52
A guest post by University of Pennsylvania Manuscripts Cataloging Librarian, Amey Hutchins

Carta executoria de hidalguia de Agustin de Yturbe, vezino de la ciudad de Sevilla, Bethlehem, PA, Lehigh University, Linderman Library, Codex 22, fols. 1v–2r (Full-page miniature, Yturbe family praying before the Virgin Mary; Full-page miniature, John the Baptist and Saint Augustine)

One of the great outcomes of the BiblioPhilly project is how easy it is to discover similar manuscripts in multiple partner libraries. As a cataloger at Penn, I was aware of seven cartas executorias in the Penn Libraries: six in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, and one at the Library at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. These are sixteenth- and early-seventeenth-century manuscripts celebrating the aristocratic genealogy of Spanish families and confirming the privileges of aristocracy, issued at the end of lawsuits brought in the chancillerías (royal chancery courts) in Granada or Valladolid to prove nobility. These privileges were worth having: they included exemption from taxes and protection from a variety of criminal punishments including torture and being sent to the galleys, and protection from imprisonment for debt.1 Through the BiblioPhilly project, I have made the acquaintance of six more cartas executorias in the region: one at Lehigh University (not described as a carta executoria prior to the project), one at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and four in the John Frederick Lewis Collection of European Manuscripts at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

The manuscripts often begin with two full-page illuminations, including images of their owners, sometimes with their families. Here we see Alonso Ximenez de Canizares and his wife Maria de Zuniga (1574):

Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1923-17-1, fol. 1v

Juan de Londono and family (1587):

Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 59, fol. 1v

and Agustin de Yturbe and family (1593):

Bethlehem, Lehigh University, Linderman Library, Lehigh Codex 22,  fol. 1v

Some manuscripts also have historiated letters or small miniatures with portraits of the ruling monarch. The thirteen manuscripts in the BiblioPhilly region span the years from 1538 to 1606, issued in the reigns of Charles I (1516–1566):

Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 263, Carta executoria a pedimiento de Alonso Mendez de Parada, fol. 48v
Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 263 (1538), fol. 48v

Phillip II (1556-1598):

University of Pennsylvania LJS 20: Carta executoria de hidalguia a pedimiento, fol. 65r
Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection, LJS 20 (1578), fol. 65r

and Phillip III (1598-1621):

University of Pennsylvania LJS 21: Executoria de hidalguia a pedimiento, fol. 49r
Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania, Lawrence J. Schoenberg Collection, LJS 21 (1606), fol. 49r

In this group of highly formulaic manuscripts, one has a significant difference, which will be the subject of the next post.