Lot 50
  • 50

Philip the Good's copy of the Mystère de la Vengeance by Eustache Marcadé, a drama on the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, in French verse, illuminated manuscript on vellum [southern Netherlands (Hesdin and Bruges), c. 1465]

4,000,000 - 6,000,000 GBP
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  • Vellum
two volumes (originally one volume, divided into two in the early eighteenth century) 368mm. by 264mm.: complete, volume I, 136 leaves, collation: i2, ii-xiii8, xiv10+1 (last leaf an inserted singleton, text continuous), xv-xvii8, xviii(a) 3 (once completed by the 5 others opening the second volume), plus one modern vellum and six paper endleaves, volume II, 167 leaves, collation: xviii(b)5 (the last leaves of the previous volume), xix-xxxvii8, xxxviii10, plus one vellum original and five modern paper endleaves, complete, ruled in purple ink for 30 lines of verse (except where actors read aloud prose letters, see volume I, fols.94r-96v for an example), written in black ink by the scribe Yvonnet the younger in a fine lettre bâtarde with some decorative cadels extending far into upper margins (e.g., volume I, fol.2r, and volume II, fol. 91r), rubrics, headings, characters’ names and stage directions in red, each line opening with a penwork capital touched in yellow, the text ending at volume II, fol.167v with a large “Amen” in ornamental angular penwork, some initials with penwork picking out human faces with large noses in volume I,  fols. 2r and 120v and II, fols. 95v-96r, twenty large miniatures by the artist Loyset Liédet, mostly in half-page arch-topped compartments (volume I, fols. 4r, 10r, 29r, 39r, 49r, 61v, 93r, 111r and 128v, volume II, fols.1r, 8v, 29v, 38r, 70r, 79r, 91r, 103v, 111v, 125v and 163v), all except that in volume II, fol.125v accompanied by a 3- or 4-line initial in blue with white tracery enclosing interlacing foliage in blue, red and green on a burnished gold ground, similar initials in volume I, fols. 39v and 78r and volume II, fols. 32r and 85r, missing a single rubric at volume I, fol. 88r, occasional small areas of flaking, tiny spots and stains and slight cockling in places (that in volume II, fol. 24v with small smudges affecting four words, which remain legible), but overall in outstanding and flawless condition with supple and unblemished vellum with wide and clean margins, sheets of paper tipped in facing each miniature, pencil note by Philip Hofer on front flyleaf of first volume, early eighteenth-century French olive morocco over pasteboards with gilt 3-line fillet added enclosing the arms of the Duke of Roxburghe between two club-wielding wildmen in the centre of each cover, now flanked by the arms of the Dukes of Devonshire with the cipher of the sixth Duke added in gilt in each corner (large ‘D’ with a smaller ‘WS’ within, all surmounted by a ducal coronet), spine elaborately gilt in a late fanfare style with circles, foliage, fleur-de-lys and the La Vieuville family device of a ‘W’ surmounted by a coronet, morocco title labels laid on, marbled paper pastedowns, gilt edges, some small bumps and scuffs with small piece wanting from top of headbands, both volumes in fitted cloth-covered cases


One of the finest extant literary manuscripts of the fifteenth century, and by far the greatest volume from the library of the Dukes of Burgundy in private hands


(1) Commissioned  c.1465 for Philip the Good (1396-1467), duke of Burgundy, count of Flanders, Artois and Franche Comté, and recorded in precise detail in the Burgundian ducal accounts, naming both the scribe and the artist.  It is probably a record of an actual performance in the presence of the duke in 1463 (see below). The manuscript is dated “l’an 1465” at the head of fol.1r by a sixteenth- or seventeenth-century hand, and is correctly identified in the inventory of Philip’s library made at his death (Barrois, Bibliothèque Prototypographique, 1830, no. 792, p. 133, and Doutrepont, La littérature française à la cour des ducs de Bourgogne, 1909, pp. xxxix-xl, both dating the inventory to 1467).  It was not finally paid for until July 1468, when the account was passed (see below), recording disbursement to Loyset Liédet, “enlumineur”, for executing 20 large miniatures for the present text at 18 shillings each, and to Yvonnet le Jeune, “clerc, escripvain”, for writing 38 quires of parchment at 16 shillings a quire, together with 24 large illuminated initials at 12 pence each, 31 shillings for binding and 14 shillings for metal fittings, all to the enormous total of 51 livres and 19 shillings (in the same period, one of the most senior military officers attendant on Philip the Good, the ‘Master of Cannon’, was paid 6 livres a year).  The counting is correct: the manuscript has 20 miniatures by Liédet, and there are exactly 38 quires.

(2) By descent to his son, Charles the Bold (1433-1477, duke of Burgundy from 1467), and thence to Charles’s heiress, Mary of Burgundy (1457-1482), who in 1477 married Maximilian I of Austria (1459-1519, Holy Roman Emperor from 1493), in whose inventory taken in Brussels in November 1487 the present manuscript is recorded as “ung autre grant volume couvert de cuir noir, à tout cloans et cincq boutons de léton sur chacun costé, historié et intitulé: La Vengeance de notre Seigneur Jésus-Crist; encomenchant ou second feuillet, Come Jésus-Crist leur Seigneur, et finissant ou derrenier, in secula seculorum. Amen” (Barrois, p. 240, no. 1680).  It appears again in the Burgundian ducal inventory of Viglius de Zuichem in 1577, but had left the collection by 1643.

(3) René-François, marquis de La Vieuville (1652-1719), courtier to Louis XIV (marrying the king’s mistress, Anne-Lucie de la Mothe-Houdancourt, in 1676 with royal approval) and governor of Poitou: possibly acquired by his grandfather, Charles, duc de La Vieuville (1583-1653), courtier to Louis XIII and Royal Surintendant des finances, but disgraced for involvement with the Fronde; he was in exile in Brussels from 1633, until restored to favour after the death of Louis XIII in 1643.  The book was bound for the marquis de Vieuville c.1707-1710 and decorated with his distinctive double ‘V’ surmounted by a coronet, by the doreur of the royal binder Luc Antoine Boyet (reçu maître c.1684, d.1733).  There are similar bindings on a printed book of romances, bound for the marquis de La Vieuville, Merlin (Paris, Vérard, after 1500) with Les prophecies de Merlin (1498), in the British Library (C.8 i.9), and on three books in the Musée Condé, reproduced in I. de Conihout and P. Ract-Madoux, Reliures françaises du XVIIe siècle: Chefs-d'oeuvre du musée Condé (Chantilly, 2002), pp. 64-9, 106-9.  All five books have the same ‘VV’ monogram surrounded by the same four tools (double-frond, arabesque, star and fleur-de-lys).  These bindings are part (‘Group 10’) of a larger group of over 200 bindings made c.1690-1710 and decorated by Boyet’s doreur for several French connoisseurs, among whom the marquis was the central figure.  

(4) Bibliotheca Lamoniana, most probably acquired by Chrétien II de Lamoignon (1676-1729); by descent to his grandson, Chrétien-François II de Lamoignon, marquis de Basville (1735-1789), with paper labels ‘Bibliotheca Lamoniana’ and ‘Y66’ or ‘Y67’, pasted inside front boards of both volumes, and black ink stamp of an elaborate initial ‘L’ within a circle on the second leaf of each volume.  Lamoignon was a member of an influential family of French bibliophiles and a member of the French Academy, who became embroiled in scandal in 1789 and committed suicide.  The Lamoignon library was catalogued by Merigot in Paris in 1791-92 (the present manuscript lot 168 in the manuscript section) and sold en bloc to Payne, who exported it to London, and issued his own catalogue in February 1793 (the present manuscript no. 10637, doubtless sold to the Duke of Roxburghe).

(5) John Ker, Duke of Roxburghe (1740-1804), with his marks ‘M74’ and ‘M75’ added on paper endleaves at the front of each volume and on morocco labels on each spine, and his arms added to the boards of each binding.  His was the most renowned library formed in Britain in the late eighteenth century, and the 45-day long sale of the Roxburghe books in 1812 was regarded by contemporaries as the most spectacular ever held.  “No sale of books ever engrossed a larger share of public attention” (Gentleman’s Magazine, 1812, p. 113).  A meeting of eighteen bibliophiles in the St Alban’s Tavern at Waterloo Place, held by the Revd. Thomas Dibdin (1776-1847) on the evening after the sale, gave birth to the Roxburghe Club, now the oldest and most distinguished bibliographic society.  The present manuscript was lot 3712 in the sale, described by George Nicol in the catalogue as “le plus superbe ms. de ce genre” and singled out for especial mention in the preface.  It sold for £493.10s. (470 guineas), to Thomas Payne (evidently for the Duke of Devonshire), then the highest price ever paid in England for any illuminated manuscript, and probably anywhere. It more than doubled the previous record of £213.3s. set by the Bedford Hours in 1786, and was exceeded in the Roxburghe sale only by two incunables: Elizabeth Woodville’s copy of Caxton’s Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye and what was then thought to be the sole surviving copy of the Valdarfer Boccaccio. 

(6)  William George Spencer Cavendish (1790-1858), the sixth Duke of Devonshire, bought at the Roxburghe sale, and by descent in the library at Chatsworth, MS 48 B.



‘The Roxburghe Sale’, The Gentleman’s Magazine, 82 (August 1812), pp. 113-116 at 115.

W. Clarke, Repertorium Bibliographicum, or Some Account of the Most Celebrated British Libraries, I, 1819, p. 253.

‘La bibliothèque de Chatsworth’, pp. 650-52 in Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes, 40 (1879), p. 652.

J.P. Lacaita, A Catalogue of the Library at Chatsworth, IV, 1879, p. 329.

B. Quaritch, ed., Contributions towards a Dictionary of English Book-Collectors, 1892, p. 250.

S. C. Cockerell, Burlington Fine Arts Club Exhibition of Illuminated Manuscripts, 1908, p. 80, nos. 161-2, and pl. 7 showing the volumes open in case M.

P. Durrieu, ‘Découverte de deux importants manuscrits de la ‘librairie’ des ducs de Bourgogne’, Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes, 71 (1910), pp. 58-71.

F. Winkler, Die flämische Buchmalerei des XV. und XVI. Jahrhunderts, 1925, pp. 75 and 169.

E. B. Ham, ‘The Basic Manuscript of the Marcadé ‘Vengeance’’, Modern Language Review, 29 (1934), pp. 405-20.

L. A. T. Gryting, ‘The Venjance Nostre Seigneur as a medieval composite’, Modern Language Journal, 38 (1954), pp. 15-17.

Exhibition of Ecclesiastical Art at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, 1958, no. 227.

L. M. J. Delaissé, La Miniature Flamande: Le Mécénat de Philippe le Bon, 1959, p. 129, nos. 154-55.

Treasures from Private Libraries in England, National Book League, 1965, no. 3, p. 7.

G. Dogaer and M. Debae, La librairie de Philippe le Bon, 1967, p. 161.

J. J. G. Alexander, Medieval and Early Renaissance Treasures in the North West, 1976, no. 50, pp. 29-30.

A. Blunt, ed., Treasures from Chatsworth, The Devonshire Inheritance, A Loan Exhibition, 1980, p.64.

P. Meredith and J. E. Tailly, The Staging of Religious Drama in Europe in the Later Middle Ages, 1983, p. 281.

G. Dogaer, Flemish Miniature Painting in the 15th and 16th Centuries, 1987, p. 108.

S. K. Wright, The Vengeance of the Lord: Medieval Dramatizations of the Destruction of Jerusalem, 1989, pp. 7, 102, 120-22, 133-34 and 137-42.

D. Devonshire, Treasures of Chatsworth, A Private View, 1991, pp. 185-86.

B. Brinkman in the Grove Dictionary of Art, 19, 1996, p. 340, with plate.

M. Smeyers, Flemish Miniatures from the 8th to the mid-16th century, 1999, pp. 357 and 416.

G. A. Runnalls, ‘Civic Drama in the Burgundian Territories in the Late Middle Ages’, pp. 409-22 in Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire, 78 (2000), p. 419.

B. Millar, The Siege of Jerusalem in its Physical, Literary and Historical Contexts, 2000, p. 152.

P. H. Greenfield, ed., Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama, 41 (2002), p. 143.

L. Weigert, ‘Illuminating the Arras Mystery Play’, pp. 81-108 in Excavating the Medieval Image: Manuscripts, Artists, Audience: Essays in Honor of Sandra Hindman, 2004, p. 92.

N.  Barker in The Devonshire Inheritance, Five Centuries of Collecting at Chatsworth, 2005 (a loan exhibition throughout the United States), no. 131, pp. 64-5, illustrated pl. 131.

M. Boulton, ‘Burgundian Devotional Manuscripts’, pp. 259-74 in Courtly Arts and the Art of Courtliness, ed. K. Busby and C. Kleinhenz, 2006, p. 269.

L. R. Muir, Love and Conflict in Medieval Drama, 2007, p. 147.

H. Wijsman, Luxury Bound: Illustrated Manuscript Production and Noble and Princely Book Ownership in the Burgundian Netherlands (1400-1550), 2010 (Burgundica, XVI), pp. 233 and 538.

L. Weigert, ‘Theatricality in Tapestries and Mystery Plays and its Afterlife in Painting’, pp. 24-35 in Theatricality in Early Modern Art and Architecture, ed. C. Van Eck and S. Bussels, 2011, p. 34, n. 16.

A. Dubois in B. Bousemanne and T. Delacourt, eds. Miniatures flamandes, 1404-1482, BnF. 2011, p. 267.

Catalogue Note


This celebrated volume is accepted as the finest illuminated manuscript of any medieval theatrical script.  Surviving records of the performing arts, such as theatre or music, are perhaps rarer than those of any other artistic medium.  They are the most ephemeral, truly existing only at the moment they are acted out, and the vast majority have passed out of history without record.  After the fall of the ancient world, theatre and dramatic performances disappear almost entirely from knowledge until the emergence of the medieval mystery plays.  These grew from the dramatisation of religious tales in the liturgy in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, in which members of the clergy, dressed as biblical characters or saints, would act out episodes in Latin between sermons.  By the late fourteenth century these had evolved into vernacular mystères, or ‘mystery’ plays, with professional actors playing alongside clerics in large-scale, open-air productions.  They were grand public spectacles with upwards of a hundred cast members organised by a director, or ‘Master of the Register’ (the register being the single script from which actors took their lines), with complex ‘secrets’, or stage-props involving machines which we would now recognise as ‘special effects’.  In the present play these include miraculous omens appearing in the sky, Vespasian’s instantaneous cure from leprosy, descending flights of angels on clouds, flying devils carrying off sinners, the diversion of a river from its natural course, a shipwreck, a mother driven by hunger to devour her own child, a rock falling from Heaven and crushing an unfortunate prophet, a rain of fire and the collapse of the Temple in Jerusalem.  Such performances were the forerunners of the plays of Shakespeare and his contemporaries in England, and of Robert Garnier, Nicolas de Montreux and others in renaissance France, and are the direct ancestors of modern theatre, opera, and the present day film industry.

The present manuscript is set out like a modern script, beginning with a long list of 108 characters (“les noms des pesonnages” on fol. 2r), arranged according to the scenes they operate in or originate from (the opening or ‘premierement’; Paradise, with God and the archangels Gabriel and Uriel; Pilate’s court in Jerusalem; Vespasian’s court in Spain; Joseph of Arimathea’s home; the court of Emperor Tiberius in Rome, with Seneca as an imperial advisor; Jaffa; Armenia; and the Pit or “Enfer”, with Lucifer, Sathan and six other devils, Burgibus, Barath, Fargabus, Gorgarant, Maloth, Agrapart and a final character described as “ung petit dyable”, doubtless played by a child).  Each character’s individual lines are written in separate sections headed by his or her name in red.  Stage directions also appear in red, which either set the scene or instruct the actors as to whom they are to address their speeches, or how to stand, as in “le iie medicin en regardant son visaige” (volume I, fol. 61v) or “le dyable senva faisant grant noise” (fol. 133r). 

Across four whole days of performance in 14,972 lines of French verse, this play narrates the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in the aftermath of the Crucifixion.  The first day of performance begins in volume I, fol. 4r with scenes of jubilation in Jerusalem and a debate in Paradise between the four virtues: Justice, Mercy, Peace and Truth (this scene, copied from the theatre, sometimes occurs in late medieval Parisian Books of Hours; cf. M. Manion, The Wharncliffe Hours, 1972, pl. XIXa).  Justice and Truth argue for God to take revenge for the Crucifixion, while Mercy and Peace intercede and secure a promise from God that many warnings will precede any punishment.  Thunder, earthquakes and fountains running with blood follow, but are ignored by all except Pontius Pilate, who writes to the Emperor Tiberius in Rome identifying the culprits and exonerating himself.  In turn, Caiaphas denounces Pilate for his part in the murder, despatching his own reports to the imperial court in Rome.  Meanwhile, Vespasian, at that time Roman governor of Spain, is suffering from leprosy, and the angel Uriel, disguised as a pilgrim, is sent by God to Vespasian’s doctors to advise them to seek out the holy veil of Saint Veronica.  The second day (volume I, fol. 88r) opens with Tiberius listening to the letter sent to him by Pilate (in fact based on the apocryphal fourth-century Greek pseudo-gospel The Acts of Pilate), and impressed with the stories of Jesus’s miracles he asks the senate to recognise his divinity.  Saint Veronica is at this time travelling to Spain and, despite the efforts of the devil to stop her, she arrives safely and cures Vespasian with a single glimpse of the veil.  On hearing of this, Tiberius is convinced of Jesus’s sanctity, and orders Pilate to Rome to explain himself.  Pilate is convicted, sent to prison, commits suicide, and the devil carries off his soul.  Tiberius dies and is succeeded by a succession of emperors, including Nero who in day three (volume II, fol. 33r) sends Vespasian and his son Titus to put down a revolt in Judea.  The Romans lay siege to the city of Jotapate (ruled by the historian Josephus).  Nero murders Seneca, his own mother and many others, before the devil seizes him and carries him off as well.  The ‘year of the four emperors’ ensues and in the play’s fourth day (volume II, fol. 96r), after a brief civil war, Vespasian is crowned, and immediately exacts brutal revenge on the city of Jerusalem and its inhabitants.  In a surprisingly modern fashion, Lucifer and the devils appear onstage at the hint of sin or wrongdoing to urge their victims to stray from the paths of virtue, apparently invisible to most of the characters surrounding them. 

Versions of the Vengeance tale were popular throughout the French-speaking regions of the late Middle Ages.  The present text is the work of Eustache Marcadé, a Benedictine monk, bachelor of theology and the provost of the abbey of Dampierre near Dieppe.  In 1414 he took office in the abbey of Corbie, but became caught up in internal politics, was denounced to the English authorities as a dangerous subversive, and was imprisoned in Amiens.  He negotiated his release and returned to academic life in Paris, receiving his doctorate in canon law in 1437, representing the university on a number of occasions and being appointed dean of the faculty in 1439.  He died there in 1440.  The present manuscript is the sole complete manuscript witness to Marcadé’s text.  The only other surviving manuscript (Arras, Bibliothèque municipale, ms 697) contains an abridged version, omitting 1020 verses of the text.  As Ham demonstrated in an article dedicated to the present manuscript, it is “truest to the authentic text … [and] supplants the long-respected Arras manuscript as the basis for a future edition of the Vengeance”. 

The present manuscript must be a de luxe record of an actual performance.  In 1463, the play was staged in Abbeville, some 30 miles to the southwest of Hesdin where this manuscript was produced, in a town then recently ceded by France to Philip the Good.  The duke is very likely to have been present.  The play was performed again in Mechelen in 1494, for the entertainment of his great-grandson, Philip the Fair (1478-1506, duke from 1482, and the eldest son of Maximilian I).  This second performance was surely taken from (or directly inspired by) the present manuscript, which was at that time in the ducal library in Brussels (see above).  The event was a spectacular affair in which professional actors were brought from Lille to play the main roles.  Raised platforms were commonly erected for noble patrons overlooking the rest of the crowd, and the duke most probably sat in a medieval ‘theatre box’ of this type, surrounded by his court, perhaps turning the leaves of the present manuscript as the four days of acting progressed.  The characters and costumes depicted in Liédet’s miniatures may be intended as more-or-less accurate representations of the Abbeville performance of the 1460s, and they must have provided models for the re-performance by the Philip the Fair some 30 years later.  The manuscript brings us as close to the fifteenth-century stage as any extant artefact.

As far as we are aware, the play has never been performed in modern times, although the manuscript would furnish an unparalleled model for doing so.

The Burgundian ducal library

Philip the Good is rightly regarded as the cultural father of Burgundy.  His line descended from that of the Valois kings of France, coming to power in the late fourteenth century.  He was born into a family of pre-eminent art patrons and bibliophiles, each setting the benchmark for artistic achievement in Europe.  He was the grandson of Charles V and great-nephew of the Duc de Berry, and the most active manuscript patron and collector of his dynasty.  The brutal murder of his father, John the Fearless, while under the diplomatic protection of a meeting with the Dauphin in 1419, caused the immediate severing of relations with the French.  Philip then set Burgundy and its increasingly industrious and wealthy northern towns on a course to match her new rival in arms and opulent artistic expressions of power.

The Burgundian library was at the centre of this political display, and under Philip it saw its finest hour.  He altered the focus of the collection, taking it away from the devotional texts inherited from his father and grandfather, to create a monumental library primarily geared to secular use and the representation and legitimisation of his power.  Of the 867 manuscripts recorded in the inventory made after his death in 1467, some 600 had been acquired by him, predominantly in the final twenty years of his reign.  Nearly 350 of these still exist, and many of them (especially those commissioned for or by Philip himself) show a marked preference for large-scale, richly illuminated, de luxe volumes, on a grander scale than anything produced for other secular patrons in Europe. 

Comte Durrieu initially connected the present volume with the account of payment found in Register 1923 of the Chambre des Comptes aux Archives du Royaume de Belgique.  In full, it reads:

"[Juillet 1468]. A Loyset Lyedet enlumineur …
Item audit Loyset, pour avoir fait encoires vingt ystoires de pluseurs couleurs en livre Intitule La Vengance de nostre Seigneur Jhesu crist, toutes dune grandeur audit pris de xviij s. chascune ystoire: xviij livres.
Item pour avoir fait xxiiij grandes lettres a champaigne dor et vingnettes dedens, a douze deniers piece font xxiiij s.
Item pour avoir fait relyer et couvrir ledit livre: xxxj s.
Item pour dix gros cloux de letton, pour petit cloux, pour les attachier dessus, et pour deux couroyes de cuir a le fermer: xiiij s.
Item a Yvonnet le Jeune, clerc, escripvain, pour avoir contre escrypt et grosse en lettre bastarde ledit livre Intitule La Vengance de nostre Seigneur Jhesu crist, pour mondit seigneur, contenant xxxviij kayers de parchemin, au pris de xvj s. le kayer, font: xxx livres viij s."

The survival of manuscripts for which we have any form of independent contemporary record of the circumstances of production is exceedingly rare, and the extent and precision of the information here is almost unequalled.  The scribe, Yvonnet the younger (fl. 1465-1470), copied other manuscripts for the Burgundian court, including Les faits d’Alexandre (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, ms fr. 22547), but no signed manuscripts are recorded.  On Liédet, see below.

The present manuscript is by far the finest volume from the Burgundian ducal library to come onto the open market since records began.  Of the 350 surviving volumes from the library of Philip the Good, 247 are in the Bibliothèque royale in Brussels, and the remainder are scattered, mostly in the great institutional libraries of Britain, France, Austria and America.  Of those surveyed by Delaissé in his La Miniature Flamande (1959), four were then in private ownership and only one had changed hands in the previous century.  The others are: (1) Delaissé no. 171, p. 141, a Vie de Saint Adrien, illuminated by the Master of the Girart de Roussillon, owned by the Comte de Waziers; (2) Delaissé no. 195, p. 155, a Chroniques de Flandre, copied by the scribe David Aubert, now Holkham Hall MS 659; and (3) Delaissé no. 183, p. 147, a small volume of 37 leaves, containing Xenophon, De la Tyrannie, with two miniatures illuminated by the Master of Vasque de Lucène (owned in 1959 by Berès but last appearing in Tenschert, cat. 27, Leuchtendes Mittelalter III, 1991, no. 12).  To these should also be added: (a) a La Vie de Jésus Christ, dated 1461, with 16 miniatures by Liédet, sold in the Hotel Drouot, Paris, on 17 June 1960, lot 11, for FRF 320,000 (now Brussels, Bibliothèque royale ms IV.106); (b) a paper copy of the Propos de la Justification du Duc de Bourgogne, with the arms of Philip the Good but no miniatures, from the Wilmerding collection, sold in our rooms, 26 July 1926, lot 183; and possibly (c) a Book of Hours without ownership marks, but with contents suggesting it was made for the duke “or a member of his immediate circle”, from the Ritman collection, sold in our rooms 19 June 2001, lot 28, now Brussels, Bibliothèque royale, ms IV.1290.  There are also two groups of cuttings: (a) three excised miniatures from a copy of Les Miracles de Nostre Dame illuminated by Lieven van Lathem for Philip the Good, c. 1460, sold by Christie’s, 3 June 2009, lots 4-6, realising a total of £364,000, now Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, MS 103, and elsewhere; and (b) 13 excised leaves from a Histoire de Charles Martel begun by Liédet for Philip the Good, c. 1463-65, now J. Paul Getty Museum, MS Ludwig XIII.6.  No other manuscripts or fragments made for Philip the Good are recorded in private hands. 


The influence of the dukes of Burgundy on the development of artistic techniques and tastes in the northern European Renaissance cannot be over-estimated.  Throughout the period 1384 to 1477, the Franco-Flemish style dominated pictorial art north of the Alps, firstly from the traditional base of the dukes at Dijon, and later from the prosperous towns of Bruges, Brussels and Lille, thereby transforming them into the foremost artistic centres of northern Europe.  It was there that Philip employed the painters Jan van Eyck (1395-c.1440) and Rogier van der Weyden (c.1399-1464), among others.  In his court, pushed on by the apparently limitless wealth of the Burgundian-Flemish alliance and the duke’s rapacious appetite for artistic innovation, the distinctive style of Flemish and Netherlandish painting was born and matured.

The miniatures here are in the most refined and sophisticated style of Burgundian book-illumination, with verdant colours and dazzlingly bright gold.  The sense of space in the town scenes, with tall thin buildings framing long streets that taper into the distance towards hills and walled towns beneath wide-open skies, foreshadows much of later Flemish painting.  In contrast, the interior scenes are remarkably detailed with corners having tiny flicks of the brush picking out cobwebs, and walls and tables littered with everyday objects.  Some details undoubtedly reflect the lavish reality of the contemporary Burgundian court, such as the richly gilt fabrics.  Medieval art is often interpreted as a kind of theatre, showing historical or fictional events as re-enactments.  Here we see the depiction of a theatrical replaying of narrative events, consciously mingling contemporary reality with scenes from the ancient world.  The sometime exaggerated or faux-naïve architectural backgrounds may actually represent stage sets.

Loyset Liédet (c. 1420-1479) lived in the small town of Hesdin where the Burgundian dukes kept a residence, and appears to have been a student of Simon Marmion there, from whose influence he drew his colouring techniques and command of pictorial narrative.  He remained there until c. 1460, producing vernacular and secular texts almost exclusively for members of the Burgundian ducal family (including a copy of Aristotle’s Ethiques et politiques, dated 1454, now Rouen, Bibliothèque municipale, ms 927; two volumes of Jean Mansel’s Histoires romaines, dated 1454-60, now Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, ms 5088, and Brussels, Bibliothèque royale, ms 9233; and an undated William of Tyre, Histoire des Croisades, now Geneva, Bibliothèque publique et université, ms fr. 85).  At some point in the 1460s he moved to Bruges, and by 1469 was a member of the book producers’ guild there.

The umbrella name of Loyset Liédet is frequently invoked to represent a workshop style of courtly art of very varying quality.  The present manuscript, securely documented to Liédet himself, shows the master at his finest, working for his greatest patron, the Duke of Burgundy.  It has been suggested that Liédet’s miniatures from his period in Bruges can be distinguished from those of his earlier work in Hesdin by the use of thin gold frames, serrated along their upper edge, to enclose the images (see Dogaer, Flemish Miniature Painting, p.107).  Such frames are found around the arch-topped miniatures in the present manuscript.  The miniatures here may therefore represent early examples of the artist’s mature Bruges style.

The miniatures comprise:

Volume 1:

1.  Folio 4r: arch-topped half-page miniature (175mm. high), in which Judas and Caiaphas meet a number of richly clothed Jewish leaders in a dome-topped building (with its nearest side cut away to allow the audience to see within) to plot the betrayal of Christ.  Outside in the narrow street another Jewish leader walks to the meeting, with the street opening up to Golgotha and a tiny but detailed scene of the Crucifixion in the background.

2.  Folio 10r: rectangular half-page miniature (150mm. by 120mm.), with Pontius Pilate before his protesting wife, staring upwards and ignoring her pleas, as a hairy devil with a vivid blue underbelly stands behind him inclining towards him over the settle from which he has just raised himself.  There is a wealth of interior detail in the open doorway revealing Pilate’s bedroom, the mirror on the facing wall reflecting the window behind the viewer’s gaze, the oranges on a shelf and settle, and tiny cobwebs around the door jambs.

3.  Folio 29r: arch-topped half-page miniature (173mm. high), with two Jewish knights named Zorobabel and Gamaliel, hailing Joseph of Arimathea as he opens his door to them; in the foreground Joseph of Arimathea standing with them and other Jewish dignitaries before two men who sit in judgement, as he asks for Christ’s body, again in a cut-open architectural scene.

4.  Folio 39r: arch-topped half-page miniature (169mm. high), with Joseph of Arimathea and Jewish dignitaries, now outside in a tall ornamental courtyard, as Joseph gives them the letters of Lancius and Carius.  In the background, a naked child is collected by two angels from an open grave, one of whom helps him take off his shroud.

5.  Folio 49r: arch-topped half-page miniature (169mm. high), in which Vespasian (then “duc d’Espaigne”) lies in bed, stricken by leprosy, with attendants and two doctors examining a urine flask, as Titus arrives from the imperial court.

6.  Folio 61v: arch-topped half-page miniature (164mm. high), with the same scene with Vespasian now attended and examined by a Master Alphonse, doctor of medicine.

7.  Folio 93r: arch-topped half-page miniature (166mm. high), with a centurion, followed by his page carrying his pack, kneeling before Tiberius and his court and offering a written letter and gifts from Pontius Pilate.

8.  Folio 111r: arch-topped half-page miniature (176mm.), with Vespasian in his sickbed revived by the sight of Christ’s face on the Holy Veil of Saint Veronica; in the background, the angel Uriel outside the emperor’s window, inspiring him to summon the saint.

9.  Folio 128v: square half-page miniature (153mm. by 153mm.), in which three armed soldiers with raised swords violently seize Pontius Pilate in his house. Four others wait outside in the courtyard and street, standing guard, while a fifth peers through the window at the commotion within.


Volume 2:

10.  Folio 1r: arch-topped half-page miniature (168mm. high), in which Pilate is brought by three armed knights to the imperial court.  He pleads for his life before the enthroned Emperor Tiberius and a host of advisors who gesture their disapproval.

11.  Folio 8v: rectangular half-page miniature (136mm. by 150mm.) with the entrance of Pilate, under armed guard, into the walled city of Lyon, where he is greeted by the bailiff and two attendants. In the background, he stands on a scaffold and is humiliated by the crowd.

12.  Folio 29v: rectangular half-page miniature (154mm. by 152mm.), with the opulent court of the Emperor Nero, enthroned and surrounded by his council of war.

13.  Folio 38r: arch-topped half-page miniature (166mm. high), open scene in a marketplace in Jerusalem in which a crowd of inhabitants, including women and children, stand gazing at the sky at apparitions of fiery dragons, ghostly soldiers and burning wagons.

14.  Folio 70r: arch-topped half-page miniature (175mm. high), with the coronation of the Emperor Galba before Vespasian, the emperor enthroned while a bishop with a pearl-covered mitre places the imperial crown on Galba’s head, and a kneeling dignitary hands the emperor a delicate golden sceptre.   

15.  Folio 79r: arch-topped half-page miniature (174mm. high), with an open scene in the centre of a town around a large watercourse, in which the pretender Otho sits astride the chest of the emperor plunging a sword through his neck, as other armed soldiers draw their swords to attack the emperor or his followers.

16.  Folio 91r: rectangular half-page miniature (145mm. by 150mm.), with a large battle scene between Roman and Jewish knights on horseback, outside the walls of Jerusalem.  In the foreground a party of Roman knights routs the Jews driving them off to the right, as a lone Jewish rider swings a curved blade back at his attacker; the ground strewn with dead and dying people and horses.

17.  Folio 103v: arch-topped half-page miniature (172mm. high), depicting the coronation of the Emperor Vespasian dressed in ermine and gilt-robes, surrounded by clergy, in a building open to the street supported by Roman columns. Outside the building the knight Maurice takes his leave of the new emperor, while trumpeters proclaim the news.

18.  Folio 111v: rectangular half-page miniature (120mm. by 154mm.), with Vespasian’s forces quelling the rebellion of Vitellius’ supporters; armed knights on horseback attacking each other with swords and javelins, as a knight in the foreground stabs another through his throat with a dagger, sending him to join the numerous bodies strewn on the floor.

19.  Folio 125v: rectangular half-page miniature (140mm. by 150mm.), with the Jewish historian, Josephus, with the Emperor Vespasian in a sumptuous interior, as a starving woman offers them her naked child in atonement for the killing of Christ.

20.  Folio 163v: square half-page miniature (150mm. by 150mm.), in which the Emperor Vespasian sits inside a decorated wheeled carriage, travelling in a triumphal procession through Rome, as its citizens come out to meet and venerate him.