(Paris: Desgodets et Gérard [but not an actual imprint], 1901). 178 x 92 mm. (7 x 3 5/8"). 46 unnumbered leaves, mounted on stubs (including two blanks before sectional openings and two blank leaves where text was apparently intended to appear but was never written out), single column, 20 lines, in an elegant italic script.
Contemporary marbled calf, raised bands with flanking blind rules extending onto covers, upper board with blind-stamped coronet at center and entwined "S" and "R" in lower right corner, turn-ins with blind-tooled scrolling frame enclosed by double gilt fillets, ivory watered silk endleaves, all edges gilt. BEAUTIFULLY PAINTED AND ILLUMINATED THROUGHOUT: two richly illuminated title pages at the front with full floral borders, the first with a pond of yellow waterlilies at foot, cattails growing on one side and purple irises on the other, at the top the Holy Dove descending in a golden sunburst towards a banderole highlighted with silver and with the title in brushed gold; the second with a birdbath at foot, two doves perched on the rim and a rambling pink rose growing out of the center, the top half of the page with the Christogram "IHS" emitting rays of golden light, below it a billowing silver cloud inscribed with the title in gold; foliated initials throughout, each page with a border comprising various decorative shapes along the top and outer edge, a wider ornamental border at the bottom throughout, each of these larger borders with graceful and realistic floral displays in many colors, gold, and silver; most pages with additional vine, branch, or religious symbols in an upper corner; a third ornate title page (this one for the Nuptial Mass) decorated predominantly in green, silver, and gold and bearing two escutcheons with the initials "S" and "L"; (15 pages here and there with decoration drawn in but unaccountably left uncolored). Vague fading and slight wear to the binding, but the volume solid and pleasant in appearance. IN EXTREMELY FINE CONDITION INTERNALLY, with virtually no signs of use.
This is at once a lovely and puzzling little manuscript that seems to have been designed for use in a way that never materialized. The text contains prayers used before, during, and after Mass as well as the complete Mass for celebrating a marriage, and since the latter section is preceded by a title with an escutcheon bearing the initials "S" and "L," it seems reasonable to speculate that the work might have been intended as a wedding gift for the bride and groom whose names began with those letters. Whatever the intention, it is entirely possible that this manuscript was not used for its envisioned purpose. Possibly our artist ran out of time to complete this project, as 15 pages are left uncolored, and the text in the Mass skips from the Epistle Prologue to the middle of the Creed, with two blanks in between. Perhaps the missing text was too big for the space left to fill, or perhaps those who commissioned the project changed their minds. It is also possible that the wedding was called off, and this handsome object was unhappily discarded, along with cake and tiaras. In any case, the manuscript has been subjected to virtually no use, a fact that explains why the leaves left for recording births, marriages, and deaths at the back are not used and why the internal condition here is so outstanding. The appearance of a publisher's imprint on the first title pages suggests that the manuscript was copied from a printed book, and Desgodets et Gérard was a frequent publisher of chromolithographed prayer books and holy cards. But this is not--as it may appear at first to be--a printed book, as universal tiny irregularities in the formation of letters identify it as a manuscript, likely intended for a wealthy client who wanted something substantially more luxurious than a printed object for an occasion as special as a wedding. The scribe and illuminator worked with considerable skill here, producing a beautifully legible text framed by colorful garden flowers. The delicate hand coloring adds to the realism: the flowers are not generic five-petaled rosettes, but realistically rendered foxgloves, hollyhocks, sweet peas, wisteria, and sweet william. Gold and silver are used extensively but subtly, enhancing rather than outshining the designs. (As with other puzzles here, the question of why the initials on the cover are "S" and "R" and those on the escutcheons are "S" and "L" remains a mystery.). (ST12022)