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Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts: Beauty and Provenance

On 03 December 2021, by Claire Papon

Two Books of Hours illustrate the luxury and refinement of these devotional guides, which marked the days of their wealthy owners. They were based on the prayer books used by monks.

Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts: Beauty and Provenance

Book of Hours for use in Paris, "HJ" or "JH" with a mystical pelican, in Latin, illuminated on parchment with 21 large and 40 small miniatures attributable to the Masters of Jean d'Albret, the Scandalous Chronicle and the Triumphs of Petrarch, 211 leaves (11 x 16.2 cm/4.33 x 6.38 in), Paris, c. 1490-1500.
Estimate: €250,000/300,000

Books of Hours for liturgical use in Auvergne are poorly known compared to those made for Rome and Paris, the two major cities of liturgical uses. That is why an illuminated manuscript from c. 1450-1460 for use in Clermont-Ferrand, whose liturgical calendar tells the stories of many local saints and bishops, including Bonnet, Martial, Hilaire, Gal, Vénérand and Genès, will be followed with interest. The illuminations are attributed to an Auvergne artist influenced by Parisian models. Its provenance—it belonged to William Waldorf Astor (1848-1919)—and coat of arms justify the €160,000/180,000 estimate. The heraldic device is painted seven times and belonged to a member of the Pascal family. One of them, Blaise, born in Clermont-Ferrand, is probably the most famous. He had the emblem engraved on his "Pascaline", the first mechanical calculator.

Another illuminated manuscript, which has never come up for auction before, is estimated €250,000/300,000. Made for use in Paris c. 1490-1500, the book combines poetry, mysticism, and allegory. It is a collaborative effort by the Masters of Jean d'Albret, the Scandalous Chronicle and the Triumphs of Petrarch, who probably painted the portrait of the woman in a red dress facing the Pietà. Her initials, "HJ" or "JH", have not shed light on her identity, but she must have been interested in the mystical bestiary and forest life. The illustrations feature fiercely fighting birds, wild boars, frogs, rabbits, flies, foxes, snails, dogs, and griffins. Two creatures stand out: the butterfly, a symbol of resurrection and salvation, and the pelican, which represents Christ’s supreme sacrifice because, according to common medieval belief, it pierces its breast to feed its young with its blood. Lastly, while no man appears, except in some hunting scenes, his role seems to be filled by the monkey.

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