Liber Evangeliorum ad usum Ecclesiae Parochialis et Regiae Versaillensis. Impendiis Societatis Rosarii. Versailles, 1725
Manuscript on vellum. Folio (358 x 240 mm). Written in a calligraphic roman script, with titles and headlines in square capitals, in gold, red and blue, by Jean Pierre Rousselet. 23-24 lines. 35 leaves, preceded and followed by blank vellum leaves; a chipped spot on the initial of second leaf; rubbing of miniature 12 (leaf 13), faint offset on the background of miniature 24 (leaf 26). With a splendid illuminated title-page, with ornate leafy scrolls and floral sprays, 26 vignettes of religious subjects, within ornate upper borders, 26 initial letters, 22 floral paintings, some with insects or a bird, all in gold and colors. Crimson straight-grain morocco, with broad borders on the sides inlaid with green morocco, large central ornaments with green and morocco inlays, compartments of the backstrip inlaid in green and maroon, all very richly gold-tooled, doublures of pale blue watered silk with borders, corner and center ornaments in gold, by Thouvenin (signed on backstrip).
Maria Leczinska, Queen of France ("M A" monogram) — Baron Edmond de Rothschild (1844-1934), and later members of the Rothschild family
This manuscript is one of three prepared by Rousselet for Maria Leczinska in 1725, the year of her marriage to Louis XV of France and of her coronation. Besides the present one, there are the Liber Epistolarum, also prepared for the Versailles chapel (a companion volume to the present one, also formerly in the Rothschild collection), and the Priéres de la Messe, on paper. The present volume is called by Portalis, the "chef d'oeuvre" of Rousselet (Nicolas Jarry, 1897, pp. 128, 130: "The last miniature seems to represent Maria Leczinska in the role of Virgin. The year 1725 is the date of her marriage, and we think that these two mss. [i.e., the Gospel and Epistle Lectionaries] must have been presented to her, especially as the title bears the initials M.A.").
Although neither the present volume nor the companion Epistles is signed by Rousselet, there is no doubt that they are by him. The title-border is close to identical in design and execution (as is also the lettering) to the Preces Missae, dated 1723, of the Brussels, Bibl. Royale ms. II 3640, which is signed (see J. B. Colbert de Beaulieu, "Le Livre de Prières de Maria Leczinska," in Scriptorium 2 (1948), 103-112, and pl. 13-15.)
It is apparent that Rousselet had two collaborators in this volume—the painter of the flowers, and the painter of the vignettes. None of these is signed, but the very strong resemblance of the painting on f. 29 (Virgin and Child) to the portrait of Maria Leczinzka and the Dauphin by Alexis Simon Belle (1674-1734) makes it very possible that the vignette paintings are by him. Belle was active at the Polish court, and also painted the portrait of King Stanislas Leczinski, Maria's father.)
The initial letters "M A" appear on the title of this work (and of the Epistles). Portalis, as noted above, took them to be a reference to Queen Maria. It is clear that they had a special significance for Queen Maria, as they occur on her bookbindings also, in almost identical form, but with the royal crown above (see Olivier-Hermal-Roton, Ser. 25, no. 2507, fer no. 14, cited from a volume which has also the Queen's coat of arms, Office de la Semaine Sainte, 1741).
The vignette paintings of the codex are as follows. They measure 100 x 50 mm (with some variation). Each is within a splendid illuminated frame, in the high baroque style. They are:
1) St. Joseph and the Virgin in a landscape. (Lection for the Nativity).
2) Nativity (Ad Missam in Aurora).
3) Adoration of the Shepherds (Ad Missam in Die).
4) The martyrdom of St. Stephen (26 December).
5) St. John, with his eagle, on a cloud (27 December).
6) Circumcision (1 January).
7) Adoration of the Magi (6 January, with a muscial passage following the lection).
8) The footwashing (the Last Supper).
9) The three Marys at the tomb (Easter).
10) Ascension (In ascensione Domini).
11) Pentecost (In die sancto Pentecostes).
12) Trinity (in festo Trinitatis). (This miniature is somewhat rubbed).
13) The Last Supper (Corpus Christi).
14) The Virgin, accompanied by cherubs (Conception of the Virgin).
15) Purification of the Virgin (Purification and Presentation).
16) The Annunciation (In Annuntiatione Dominica).
17) The birth of St. John (In nativitate S. Joannis Baptistae).
18) The martyrdom of Peter and Paul (29 June).
19) The assumption of the Virgin (15 August).
20) The birth of the Virgin (8 September).
21) The beheading of St. Denis, and his walk back to Paris with his head in his hands (9 October)
22) All Saints (1 November).
23) St. Charles Borromeo, showing him aiding the sick (4 November).
24) Dedication day of the church of St. Mary at Versailles. The miniature shows a person kneeling, an angel behind him, and a building or city in the background.
25) St. Cecilia, showing here at the organ (22 November).
26) Rosary of the Virgin. The Virgin, with the features of Maria Leczinska, is shown with Jesus in her lap, nursing; to the right, a cradle, to the left, a lectern.
Following this, on leaves 30-34, are readings for the Octave of Corpus Christi; Sacred Heart; Vincent de Paul; the Rosary; and St. Louis. These have been added, and are not in the script of Rousselet, though they are within the narrow gold borders present on all the text pages. Leaves 35 and 36 have the borders but are otherwise blank, evidently intended for further additions.
Among the floral paintings, those of leaves 6, 9v, 14, 15v, 22 and 29v are outstanding—all of these are half-page or larger. The flower paintings vary in size to fit the requirements of the text, and most of the others are smaller.
The initial letters are in blue, with minute white tracery upon gold patterned backgrounds, within matte gold patterned borders.
The binding by the firm of Thouvenin (active 1813-1844), while not contemporary, is admirably suited to the spirit of rococco fantasy which pervades the codex.
The manuscript was among those plundered by the Germans in France during World War II, being then the property of Alexandrine de Rothschild. It was restored to her after 1945.
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