Book of Hours, Use of Bourges, in Latin and French, illuminated manuscript on vellum [northern France (Paris), c.1470]
(2) Jean Hersent of Paris: his early twentieth-century armorial book-plate inside upper cover, and inscribed with his “no12”. Another magnificent Book of Hours from his library was sold in our rooms, 1 July 2013, lot 65.
The text includes: a Calendar (fols.1r-12v); the Gospel Sequences (fols.13r-21v); the Obsecro te (fols.22r-27v); the O intemerata and other prayers (fols.27v-47r); Suffrages to female saints (fols.47v-52v); the Hours of the Virgin with Matins (fols.53r-68r), Lauds (fols.68v-83v), Prime (fols.84r-91v), Terce (fols.92r-96r), Sext (fols.96v-101r), None (fols.101v-106r), Vespers (fols.106v-109v), Compline (fols.110r-116v, followed by a blank leaf); the Penitential Psalms (fols.118r-140v) with a litany starting on fol.135r; the Hours of the Cross (fols.141r-145v); the Hours of the Holy Spirit (fols.146r-150v); the Office of the Dead (fols.151r-173r); Prayer to the Trinity and other prayers (fols.174r-290v); Suffrages to male saints (fols.291r-201v); prayer for the dead (fols.202r-204r), and a prayer to Christ (fol.204r).
The miniatures in this fine Book of Hours are among the best work of Maître François, painted in semi-grisaille on an intimate scale. Maître François was one of the leading artists who dominated book illumination in Paris during the third quarter of the fifteenth century. He was known to be the documented painter of a two-volume French translation of Augustine’s Cité de Dieu (Paris, BnF, fr.18-19), bearing the arms of Charles de Gaucourt, Governor of Amiens and appointed Lieutenant General of Paris in 1472. Robert Gaguin, a general of the Trinitarian order, wrote to Gaucourt in 1473 that after sending the iconographic program and directions for the miniatures for the Cité de Dieu to the celebrated painter François (“egregius pictor Franciscus”), he approved of the completed work, praising his perfect craftsmanship. Maître François has now been identified with François Le Barbier who lived in the 1460s on the bridge of Notre-Dame (see M. Deldicque in Revue de l'Art, no.183, 2014, pp.9-18). François was a very successful illuminator and he worked not only for members of the court and the aristocracy in Paris, but also for members of the courts of Anjou and Maine.
This Book of Hours belongs to a small group of works painted in semi-grisaille, using predominantly white, pale mauves and greys especially for garments. Other examples include the Wharncliffe Hours (Melbourne, National Gallery, MS. Felton 1072/3), a Book of Hours in London (British Library, Egerton MS.2045) and the Hours of Rene II of Lorraine (Lisbon, Gulbenkian Museum, MS.L.A.147). The architectural frames of the miniatures here, the doll-like figures with their neatly combed hair and the carefully rendered buildings and landscapes set this among the best of François’s productions.
The large miniatures comprise: (i) fol.13r, St. John on Patmos with his attribute, the eagle, in a wide rocky landscape; (ii) fol. 22r, a young man kneeling in prayer, introduced by his patron St. William of Maleval to the Virgin and Child in an elegant interior; (iii) fol. 53r, the Annunciation to the Virgin; (iv) fol. 68v, the Visitation of the Virgin to St. Elisabeth; (v) fol. 96v, the Adoration of the Three Magi; (vi) fol. 101v, the Presentation in the Temple with the Christ Child turning to his mother; (vii) fol. 106v, the Flight into Egypt with the Christ Child hugging his mother; (viii) fol. 118r, David in Prayer, kneeling in front of a diptych, in a contemporary architectural setting; (ix) fol. 141r, the Crucifixion of Christ; (x) fol. 146r, the Pentecost with the Virgin in the centre; (xi) fol. 151r, a Skeleton attacking a young man with a long red spear; (xii) fol. 174r, the Trinity with God the Father and Christ holding an enormous book, the Holy Spirit in form of a dove hovering above.