Overlooked Texts, Overlooked Images (Part II): Mystery Engravings

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 41/52
A guest post by National Gallery of Art Associate Curator of Old Master Prints, Brooks Rich

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Album of Engravings and Devotional Texts by Erasmus, Marco Girolamo Vida, and Prudentius, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 179, fol. 11r, Annunciation (detail); Albrecht Dürer, Annunciation from The Small Woodcut Passion, probably ca. 1509/1510, Washington, DC, National Gallery of Art, Rosenwald Collection, 1943.3.3635

The first part of this blog post examined the interesting selection of texts, previously unidentified, that were included in the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Lewis E 207 prayer book. Today, our subject is the series of engravings found within that same book. From the very beginning of their production in the late fourteenth century, single-leaf prints were pasted into prayer books and other private volumes and sometimes even further painted and gilded as inexpensive substitutes for illuminated miniatures.1 In the fifteenth century several engravers in the Rhine-Maas valley region of Germany and the Netherlands specialized in small prints aimed at this market for hybrid devotional manuscripts. Ursula Weekes has argued that these printmakers created engraved print cycles specifically for inclusion in octavo and quarto size devotional prayer books at a time of transition between manuscript and print.2 The print series were integral components of the volumes, intended to be inserted during the creation of the codices. As the forty-five engravings in Lewis E 179 demonstrate, this tradition of hybrid manuscript production in northern Europe continued well into the sixteenth century. The prints in the volume form a cohesive cycle of the Life and Passion of Christ and provide a framework around which the manuscript’s handwritten prayers were inscribed.

The identity of the engraver responsible for the unsigned print series in the Free Library’s manuscript is a mystery and the cycle remains undescribed in the standard catalogues raisonnés of early modern prints. In the late nineteenth-century the prints were tentatively attributed to the school of Allaert Claesz, an understudied but prolific Netherlandish engraver who is now more commonly known as Monogrammist AC due to the letters by which he signed many of his compositions.3 While the prints in the Lewis manuscript lack an AC monogram and do not exhibit the minute detail and varied engraving technique that define the Monogrammist’s best work, their small scale and reliance on models by other sixteenth-century printmakers certainly finds parallels in the wider AC oeuvre.4 In fact, the Lewis manuscript’s print depicting the Adoration of the Magi (18v) is a reverse copy of an engraving signed with an AC monogram (Fig. ).5

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Lewis E 179, fol. 18v, Adoration of the Magi (detail); Monogrammist AC, Adoration of the Magi, Dresden, Kupferstich-Kabinett, A 4989

We can identify sources for several of the manuscript’s other engravings in works by more famous printmakers of the early sixteenth century. The hand-colored image of the Annunciation (11r) that initiates the cycle is based on a composition dated to around 1510 from Albrecht Dürer’s Small Woodcut Passion series (see the comparison at the top of the post).6 While the specific form of the angel Gabriel is an original conception, the figures of the Virgin and God the Father—as well as the canopy bed that provides the backdrop for the encounter—are borrowed directly from Dürer’s model.

Several other engravings (including those found on 13r, 37v, 43v, 64r, 88v, 92v) are derived in part from Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen’s woodcut Little Passion series, which was published in Amsterdam in the early 1520s.7 The volume’s engraving depicting the Samaritan Woman at the Well (36r) is a reverse copy of an engraving by the German engraver Jacob Binck.8 The engraving depicting The Last Supper (51r) is based on an unsigned composition commonly ascribed to the anonymous Flemish engraver known as Master S.9

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Lewis E 179, fol. 36r, Samaritan Woman at the Well (detail); Jacob Binck, Samaritan Woman at the Well, London, British Museum, 1853,0709.90

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Lewis E 179, fol. 51r, The Last Supper (detail); Usually ascribed to Master S, The Last Supper, Brussels, National Library of Belgium, R-2009-16921

Engravings attributed to Master S, Monogrammist AC, and other now anonymous minor printmakers are still preserved as extra-illustrations in manuscripts made for monastic communities around Sint-Truiden.10 Many of these prints were likely executed in the area between Liège and Maastricht in the lower Netherlands. Perhaps the engravings in the Lewis prayer book were also made in Flanders in the 1550s for a similar clientele.


Overlooked Texts, Overlooked Images (Part I): An Erasmian Album

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 40/52

Album of Engravings and Devotional Texts by Erasmus, Marco Girolamo Vida, and Prudentius, Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 179, fols. 46v–47r, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Prayer for Seious Illness; engraving, Christ breaking bread with the Apostles

Sixteenth-century books that combine manuscript text with engraved or woodcut images can sometimes fall through the cracks of scholarship. On account of their hybrid character, they are often neglected by manuscript specialists in favor of entirely hand-written books. At the same time, scholars of early printing, on the lookout for editions by recognizable publishers, tend to cast aside these complex combined works in the search for more easily classifiable items. However, over the past several decades these tendencies have started to change. Increasingly, scholars have taken on the complex interface of early printing and handwriting as a fascinating subject in and of itself.1

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Nau, Naulet, Noël: Part II (a fragment of the Chanson de la Grue)

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 37/52

Noels (Book of Christmas Carols in French), Philadelphia, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis E 211, fol. 5r (detail)

Last week, we looked at the lively pen-and-ink illustrations in this remarkable anthology of French Christmas carol lyrics from the 1520s, and discovered the lyrics to a poem by the famous Franciscan preacher, Olivier Maillard. This week, we will look at another text within the book, before finishing with a quick overview of some of the splendid penwork initials that embellish the book as well.

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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.

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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.

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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.