(Rouen: ca. 1470). 178 x 120 mm. (7 x 4 7/8"). 128 leaves. COMPLETE. Single column, 16 lines, in a gothic book hand. Contents: Calendar (f. 1r); Gospel Lessons (f. 13r); Obsecro te and O intemerata (f. 19r); Hours of the Virgin (f. 27r); Hours of the Cross (f. 67r); Hours of the Holy Spirit (f. 70r); Seven Penitential Psalms and Litany (f. 73r); Office of the Dead (f. 89r); Douce Dame and Seven Requests, in French (f. 119r).
Pleasing late 17th century calf, raised bands, red morocco label with gilt lettering, vellum pastedowns and endleaves. Housed in a black cloth clamshell box backed in brown morocco, interior lined with velvet. Rubrics in red, many line-fillers in pink and blue with white highlights and gold bezants, numerous one-line initials in gilt on pink and blue ground with white highlights, 17 three- to four-line initials in pink or blue on burnished gold ground and in-filled with pink and blue ivy, EIGHT ARCH-TOPPED MINIATURES surrounded by full borders of colorful acanthus, various fruits and flowers, and hairline vines with gilt leaves and bezants, each text leaf with a panel border of hairline vines, gilt leaves and bezants, vases with colorful flowers, and acanthus, two leaves with a three-quarter border of the same. The subjects of the large miniatures include: a quadripartite scene with the Four Evangelists (f. 13r); Annunciation (f. 27); Nativity (f. 49); Crucifixion (f. 67r); Pentecost (f. 70r); David in Prayer (f. 73r); Burial scene (f. 89r); and Coronation of the Virgin with kneeling patron (f. 119). Front pastedown with armorial book label (possibly that of Lloyd Cabot Briggs) and several notes in ink and pencil; recto of front free endpaper with clipped catalogue description (probably that of Maggs Brothers); verso of front free endpaper with a 16th century inscription in French: "Ces heures ont appartenu a Dame Anne Dufay femme de Messire Robert Des Champs septieme du nom, mere d'Anne des Champs seule heritiere de la terre du Bosclehar et de cette branche"; rear pastedown with a check from Lloyd Cabot Briggs made out to Maggs in the amount of $500, dated 25 February 1927. ◆Spine leather a bit crackled, light rubbing to boards, but the binding in very good condition with no structural issues. Three dozen leaves in the first half of the book with dampstain at lower right or along fore edge (with attendant cockling, but with minimal intrusion on decoration), minor signs of damp elsewhere in the form of inclination toward waviness, one leaf partly darkened and with paint loss to large initial, minor losses of pigment and light rubbing to the burial miniature, but, all in all, in quite pleasing condition internally, with all but one of the miniatures in fine or outstanding condition.
Even with its condition issues, this is a very pretty Book of Hours with much to offer and a manuscript that reaches notably high moments of artistic achievement. It was illuminated by a leading French atelier, with striking similarities to a Book of Hours now at the Walters, and with an inscription linking it to an early female owner. In Rouen, the rival of Paris as the center of illuminated manuscript production in the later 15th century, the dominant style was that of the so-called "Master of the Echevinage of Rouen" (also known as the "Master of the Geneva Latini"), an immensely popular and successful artist who took his name from several commissions he illuminated for the Echevinage (council of city aldermen) of Rouen. All the hallmarks of his style are here: pale-skinned women with oval heads on long necks framed by cascades of gilt-enhanced tresses, draperies finely highlighted with liquid gold, backgrounds frequently including gilt brocaded textiles, and designs that combine complexity with memorable deftness of painting. The present work stands out because of its superior quality of illumination: the excellent composition of each miniature, the attention to detail, and the polished level of finishing place it in a high tier of craftsmanship. Little touches, too, such as the reflection of buildings in the water, or the superbly painted book at the foot of the Virgin in the depiction of Pentecost, add to the overall value and beauty of the manuscript. The artist was not only technically skillful, but also possessed the ability to create emotionally charged scenes. The Crucifixion miniature is an excellent example of this, containing three crucified bodies plus a throng of people below, each person reacting differently to the scene through hand gestures, figural poses, and facial expressions. The resulting composition is memorably powerful. The Nativity and Coronation of the Virgin miniatures are also quite fine, being painted with great delicacy and coming down to us remarkably well preserved. And then there are the Pentecost and David paintings, which transcend the others, being nothing short of exquisite in their exceptional levels of precise painting and state of preservation. Even given all this, perhaps the most striking--because most unusual--miniature here appears at the opening to the Office of the Dead, where we see the image of a dead body, lying naked on a sheath in a courtyard. Surrounding the body are two mourners dressed in black, and two members of the clergy, all of whom are seated, holding open books. The funeral scene in a Book of Hours allows for a certain latitude in its composition, but this is considerably different from what's typical. Above the seated figures wages a battle for the dead man's soul, fought between St. Michael and a winged devil painted jet black, infusing a scene that is normally somber and sedate with a sense of excitement and movement. This is not to say that our burial scene is unprecedented--it has unmistakable compositional parallels with the miniatures in Walters MS W.284, a Book of Hours also produced in Rouen around 1480 in the workshop of the Master of the Echevinage. In fact, all of the miniatures that the two manuscripts have in common (Annunciation, Nativity, Crucifixion, Pentecost, David in Prayer, and the Burial scene) are so similar that the artist(s) must have used the same exemplar in his or their work. A close comparison of the two manuscripts--and perhaps other similar extant examples that are waiting to be identified--would make for a fascinating study. Our manuscript was apparently made for the woman kneeling before the Virgin and Child on f. 119. Although we do not know her identity, we have a 16th century ownership inscription on the front free endpaper that says: "These Hours belonged to Lady Anne Dufay [du Fay], wife of Sir Robert des Champs, seventh of that name, mother of Anne des Champs, sole heir of the land of Bosc-le-Hard and this branch." Anne du Fay was the daughter of Anne du Moncel and Jean du Fay (Lord of La Land & Bourg-Achard and Counselor of the Parliament of Rouen). She married Robert Des Champs, Lord of de Bosc-le-Hard, in 1579. Both families were of noble lineage and owned land in the Rouen area. It seems possible that the present manuscript may have been made for an ancestor of Anne du Fay, and was passed down through the matrilineal line, especially given the mention of the daughter Anne des Champs. (ST19380)