A masterpiece by the Master of Spencer 6
This large miniature reveals all its iconographic treasures in a French Book of Hours from the 1500s.
Book of Hours, Rite of Rome (Hours of the Virgin and Office of the Dead), France, very certainly Bourges, ca. 1500-1510, illuminated manuscript on parchment, in Latin and French, 156 ff, 36 large miniatures, 35 small miniatures and four historiated initials by the Master of Spencer 6, 127 x 185 mm.
In this Elysian plain depicting Adam and Eve with Christ, every feature is designed to reassure sinners of their redemption. Praise God, at the end of time the faithful will find this primordial golden age of joy and serenity: an Eden where men and animals live in peace and spring rules eternal on Earth, providing living creatures with all they need. The stag, symbol of prudence and the triumph of Good over Evil, embodies souls aspiring to return to God. Viewers will comprehend the warning, hidden behind a bush, in the form of a horse, seen by the Church Fathers as an allegory of Lust and Pride. Danger also lurks in the plethora of ripe, glistening, enticing fruits setting off the foliage of the apple trees: the very fruit that will soon cause the fall of man. Here there are no walls: the Garden of Eden stretches to infinity, and its inhabitants are one. It has not yet been forbidden to the two future sinners who stand, hands joined in prayer, before Christ, "the last Adam". The well lying at the intersection of four river branches is borrowed from the hortus conclusus: a secret garden expressing the essence of the Virgin Mary, whose clear flowing water contrasts with the still waters of sin. An enigma in three dimensions, its architecture seems like a pure product of the Italian Renaissance, as witness the twisted columns with Corinthian capitals, the half-pilasters, the friezes with plant motifs, the garlands of acanthus leaves, the atmospheric perspective reminiscent of Leonardo and the almost Cranach-like naturalism of the naked bodies – all illustrating how porous influences were in the Europe of the 1500s. This diptych, one of the thirty-six large miniatures contained with thirty-five smaller ones in the Book of Hours known as "de G et H", shows an obvious familiarity with the Duc de Berry's Très Riches Heures and its luxuriant landscapes. Its creator, named the Master of Spencer 6 (after a similar Book of Hours now in the New York Public Library, in the Spencer collection, certainly worked in Bourges, the dynamically creative town that played such a large part in adapting French art to the Renaissance aesthetic. This changing contemporary world can be seen throughout the parchment pages in the hunting scenes, the work in the field, the ships and the clothes reflecting the latest Italian fashions, with exotic touches like the proud-necked giraffe glimpsed here in the distance.