Repainted Miniatures in the Frédéric Spitzer Hours

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 38/52

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Book of Hours for the Use of Paris, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1945-65–5, p. 351 and 363 (detail of retouched miniature of Saint Michael; detail of unretouched miniature of Saints George and Lawrence)

The Austrian-born, Paris-based dealer-collector Baron Frédéric Spitzer (1815–1890) is well known to those who study medieval and Renaissance art on account of his famed collection of over 4,000 items, which was sold off after his death, and also on account of the numerous deceptive objects that passed through his hands at one point in time or another. In partnership with the restorer Reinhold Vasters, Spitzer orchestrated the production of misleading objects that he sold on the art market for enormous profit.  These ran the gamut from outright forgeries, fakes, and pastiches to historicizing originals and honest replicas. A contemporary overview of his collection, before it became notorious for containing questionable objects, is provided here. Recently, Paola Cordera has written a monograph dealing with Spitzer’s wider role in the broader culture of the time, which also includes a list of the 3369 items in the 1893 auction, 508 items in the 1895 auction, and 686 items in the 1929 auction.1

The Spitzer Collection was famous for its astounding array of decorative arts, many of which remain legitimate masterpieces, but its manuscript holdings are less well known today. Forty-three manuscripts are included in the 1893 catalogue of his posthumous sale, with most being recorded in the Schoenberg Database of Manuscripts. A number of items stayed in France: at least three high-quality Books of Hours from the Spitzer Collection are now in the Bibliothèque nationale de France: MS Smith-Lesouëf 39 (lot 3012 in the sale) and MS NAL 3090 (lot 3040 in the sale), and MS NAL 3187 (lot 3016 in the sale). The so-called Tilliot Hours, a beautiful French Renaissance manuscript, is now in London (British Library, Yates Thompson 5, lot 3017 in the sale); as is the Hours of François II of Brittany and Margaret de Foix (Anne of Brittany’s parents), which was part of the George Salting Bequest (Salting had purchased a large portion of the Spitzer Collection) to the Victoria & Albert Museum (MSL/1910/2385, lot 3015 in the sale). A Book of Hours now at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore (W.276) once belonged to Spitzer, as did the fragmentary Conradin Bible (W. 152). At least one ex-Spitzer manuscript, however, is now in Philadelphia: PMA 1945–65–5. This Spitzer provenance was noted when the item was acquired by the Philadelphia Museum of Art as part of the Phillip S. Collins bequest.2 As per the Schoenberg Database manuscript record, the Philadelphia book is identifiable as item 3005 in the sale, which is described as having 298 folios and a modern red vellum binding (details that match the PMA manuscript).3 In Cordera’s catalogue, item 3005 is erroneously equated with the DeBuz Hours, now at the Houghton Library, Harvard (MS Richardson 42), but that book appears to have been item 3006 (the folio count and binding match up).4 The Collins/PMA ownership is not mentioned. Incidentally, the DeBuz Hours was also at one point in Philadelphia, as it belonged to the local collector George C. Thomas around 1900, before being sold on by Rosenbach to William King Richardson in 1947.  Cordera provides some additional information regarding the later purchasers of items 3005 and 3006 at the 1893 Spitzer sale: the former was bought by Bourgeois Frères of Cologne and the latter was bought by Godefroy Bauer of Paris. Whether these two buyers were also mixed up (i.e. whether our book was bought from the Spitzer sale by Bourgeois or Bauer) remains unclear.

In any event, the Philadelphia Book of Hours contains a fine cycle of early-fifteenth-century miniatures that were attributed by Millard Meiss to the circle of Jacquemart de Hesdin and the Bedford Master.5 However, unnoticed until now are the various retouched miniatures. The whereabouts of the Book of Hours between its sale from the Spitzer collection and its acquisition by the wealthy Philadelphia publisher Phillip S. Collins, whose widow donated it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is uncertain (though as seen above it may have passed through the Cologne or Paris art markets). However, given Spitzer’s lack of qualms about re-working other medieval objects, it seems safe to assume that the modifications occurred while the book was in Spitzer’s hands. The book appears to be in generally good condition, so the intervention is limited to those areas that appear to have been worn selectively.

The first obviously retouched miniature occurs in the calendar. Here, the surface of the parchment has clearly suffered some damage. Even from the digital photo, the dissimilarity in surface between the somewhat blotchy square vignettes of the harvester and Leo and the rubbed line of text above is obvious. This can be contrasted with the subtlety of the vignettes for the other months, which appear unaltered.

PMA, 1945–65–5, p. 13 (first half of calendar for July; detail of the retouched Labor of the Month and Zodiac vignettes)

PMA, 1945–65–5, p. 7 (first half of calendar for April; detail of the unretouched Labor of the Month and Zodiac vignettes)

Other miniatures, like the Flight into Egypt and the Suffrages for Saint Michael (see above), Saints Roman and Audoenus/Ouen/Owen, and Saint Genevieve also bear traces of partial repainting. The retouched areas, usually limited to the heads of figures, are quite easy to spot. Several of these zones appear to have been subjected to localized damage prior to being repainted, perhaps caused by an early user of the book rubbing or kissing certain images of special importance. Of course, retouching illuminated manuscripts with anything approaching the finesse of the originals is notoriously difficult, but not impossible, as other examples preserved in Philadelphia prove. Recent research has also harnessed technical analysis to confirm the use of modern pigments in suspected forged miniatures elsewhere. However, the built-in protection of miniatures provided by the codex format, combined with the ready visibility of repaints, saved the manuscript trade from the pervasive reworkings and outright fakes that plagued the Old Masters paintings and medieval “minor” arts markets at the end of the nineteenth century, at the very time when the Spitzer Collection was being dispersed.

Nevertheless, the following images remind us that many such alterations remain to be spotted.   9120_0176_web
PMA, 1945–65–5, p. 171 (Vespers of the Hours of the Virgin with retouched miniature of the Flight into Egypt; detail of miniature)   9120_0383_web
PMA, 1945–65–5, p. 378 (Suffrage for Saints Roman and Audoenus/Ouen/Owen; detail of miniature)   9120_0429_web
PMA, 1945–65–5, p. 424 (Suffrage for Saint Genevieve; detail of miniature)


  1. Paola Cordera, La fabbrica del rinascimento: Frederic Spitzer mercante d’arte e collezionista nell’europa delle nuove nazioni (Bologna: Bononia University Press, 2014.
  2. Carl Zigrosser, “The Philip S. Collins Collection of Mediaeval Illuminated Manuscripts,” Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin 58, no. 275 (1962): 3–34,
  3. Frédéric Spitzer, La collection Spitzer: Antiquité, moyen-âge, renaissance (Paris: Quantin, 1890-1892), vol. 5, p. 135, no. 3.
  4. Cordera, La fabbrica del rinascimento, 347.
  5. For attributions see Millard Meiss, “Exhibition of French Manuscripts of the XIII-XVI Centuries at the Bibliothèque Nationale,” Art Bulletin XXXVIII (1956), p. 193, n. 23; Millard Meiss, French Painting in the Time of Jean de Berry: The Late Fourteenth Century and the Patronage of the Duke (London: Phaidon, 1967), Vol. I, 359; Robert G. Calkins, A Medieval Treasury: An Exhibition of Medieval Art from the Third to the Sixteenth Century (Ithaca: Office of University Publications, Cornell University, 1968), cat. 103, pp. 175–177; Millard Meiss, French Painting in the Time of Jean de Berry: The Limbourgs and their Contemporaries (London: Phaidon, 1974), Vol. I, 368, 397.