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Details & Cataloguing

Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts

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Four scenes from the Life of St. Denis, on a single leaf, in French, probably from an illuminated Psalter on vellum [northern France (Paris), second quarter of the fourteenth century]
single leaf, 295mm. by 205mm. in total, with four scenes by the Parisian husband and wife artist-team, Richard and Jeanne de Montbaston (fl. 1325-53): (1) St. Denis preaching, standing in the centre, wearing a mitre and turned to the right with both hands raised, followed by two tonsured men and arguing with four men shown in front of the gate of Paris; (2) the saint imprisoned, kneeling in prayer, visited by Christ holding a chalice and a host, accompanied by an angel and two tonsured men; (3) the beheading of the saint, with the saint and two tonsured men kneeling on the floor while three executioners wield large axes behind them; (4) the saint carrying his head, walking from Montmartre where he was martyred to his burial place, accompanied by two angels, and meeting a Christian woman who is holding a veil to receive the Saint’s head; these forming a single miniature divided into four compartments, figures drawn in brown lines, coloured in wash and heightened with liquid and burnished gold, the miniatures in the upper register beneath six-pointed gothic crocketed canopies, those in the lower register beneath two arches, interstices between the miniatures filled with green, orange and blue areas overlaid with stars in white paint, all enclosed in a compartmented frame of pink and blue with white tracery, surrounded by slim gold bars terminating at each corner and in the middle of each frame in gold-leaved foliage sprays, with 3 to 5 lines of explanatory text above and below the miniatures, in brown ink in a gothic bookhand, 2-line initials, caption numbers (‘xxi-xxiiii’) in the margins and line-fillers in alternate red or blue with contrasting penwork, frame of the upper scenes and door to prison in scene 2 slightly smudged, vellum somewhat cockled, otherwise in excellent condition, recto blank, with remnants of paper in the corners from previous mounting, framed
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Catalogue Note

This is a previously unrecorded leaf from a well-known elaborately illuminated manuscript, most probably a Psalter, which was broken up in the early nineteenth century (the first leaf appeared for public sale in 1834). A comprehensive listing of the surviving leaves is given in our catalogue, 29 June 2007, lot 10, and by C. de Hamel, Gilding the Lily, 2010, no.43. Most were trimmed to the edges of the miniature, most probably in the nineteenth century, but a small number of leaves preserve the original dimensions of the codex and its accompanying text.

Their style has often been connected to north-eastern France, and in particular Metz, c.1320, but in fact they are Parisian and a couple of decades later. The fluid pen-flourishing including three distinctive dots arranged as a triangle and little flowers are distinctively the work of the French capital (cf. P. Stirnemann in Revue de l’Art, no.90, 1990, pp.58-73), and these miniatures can be firmly identified as the work of the famous husband and wife artist-team, Richard and Jeanne de Montbaston, who lived and worked on the rue Neuve Notre-Dame in the second quarter of the fourteenth century (R.H. and M.A. Rouse, Manuscripts and their Makers, 2000, I, pp.235-60, and II, pp.202-06). Both were libraires, Jeanne taking this title independently after Richard’s death c.1353. They were prolific manuscript producers for the court and members of the Parisian elite, even leaving self-portraits of themselves at work at matching desks, grinding pigments, writing leaves while others dry on a rack, and painting illuminations, in the lower borders of a copy of the Roman de la Rose, now Paris, BnF., fr.25526 (illustrated in Rouse and Rouse, I, figs.22-23). Jeanne is of particular importance as a witness to the crucial but almost invisible roles played by women in the Parisian book trade, and one feature identified by the Rouses as consistently indicating her hand, that of the “straight or convex Roman nose” (I, p.240) can be found several times on the present leaf.

As the surviving miniatures appear on rectos and versos, and are blank on one side, the original manuscript must have been arranged in pairs forming double-openings. The original numbering system indicates that there were three separate sequences of pictures, perhaps as a tripartite prefatory cycle for an elaborate Psalter, marking the division of the Psalms at 1, 51, and 101. Prominent forerunners of this arrangement are two English thirteenth-century Psalters, namely the Munich Psalter (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm. 835; Morgan, Early Gothic Manuscripts, 1982, I, pp.68-72) and the Huth Psalter (London, British Library, Add. 38116; N. Morgan, ibid, 1988, pp.167-9). The present miniature with scenes numbered XXI-XIV, would have immediately followed after the (unnumbered) leaf in the Bodleian, as the verso of the next double-page opening.

Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts

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