Tag Archives: manuscript

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Chantilly 1695 Ingeborg-Ps F10

Another of Carl Nordenfalk’s study images from my Courtauld cache. This is from the Ingeborg Psalter from the Museum Chantilly in Conde, Paris. Made in 1195 for Ingeborg, the Danish wife of French king Philip II (Augustus); the first king of all France and the last of the Frankish kings. She was his second wife, and only lasted a few weeks before Phillip changed his mind about a Danish alliance, and Ingeborg spent the next 20 years as hostage in various castles in France. Hopefully this book was some comfort: it is one of the key works of early Gothic painting, sumptuously illustrated in bright colors on gold, 200 folios and 51 illustrations covering the life of Christ and the prophecies of the Psalms. So key in fact that other works by the same artist or aetelier are called by ‘The Master of the Ingeborg Psalter‘.

This an illustration of the passage from Genesis 18, where three mysterious men visit Abraham and Sarah on the plains of Mamre, announcing that she will bear a son, Issac. This a surprise to the couple, since both are old and Sarah beyond childbearing age: (Gen18:12): Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?

Tradition has it that the men were actually angels, specifically Raphael, Micheal and Gabriel. I’m not sure we can indentify which angel is which, but we can certainly see the deference on the part of Abraham and the nervousness of Sarah as she peeps from the doorway of the tent. Raphael is supposed to have healed Abraham, so perhaps it it he who gestures to the Staff of Ascelpius on the table, while the Micheal is in the center, giving the blessing and announcing the baby? Gabriel is supposed to have left the meal in order to mastermind the destruction of Sodom, so perhaps he’s the one with the “hello, I must be going” gesture to the far right of the lower panel. They were served fresh bread, butter and milk, and what looks like a particularly yummy calf’s head soup.

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f 8

Nordenfalk’s handwriting again, but well known enough (?) not to have a caption. This is from La Somme la Roi, written in 1279 by a Dominican friar Lawrence for Phillip III the Bold of France. Translation would be the ‘Royal Summation’, but it’s more accurately a book of instructional virtues and vices. The book sets out a set of pre-existing texts as a canon of secular religious knowledge: the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Beatitudes and Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Known in more than 80 copies this was very influential book on lay religious thinking and practice towards the end of the middle ages, and set much of what we still understand to be the central tenants of Christianity. This copy, in the Library of Cardinal Mazarin in Paris (note the stamp), was copied in 1295 and illuminated in the style of Maitre Honore.

So what do we have here? Well, it’s the Seven-headed Beast of the Apocalypse, replete with ten horns and ten crowns. Regardimg us with a testy frown, he crushes a Saint beneath his horrible paws, while a hypocrite bows down before him: Revelation 13.1 – 10. describes the monster. He’s included because of his seven heads, which could correspond to the Seven Deadly Sins; hence the crushed saint and the fawning hypocrite. The British Library’s copy of this book, MS Add 54180 is generally held to be a more well finished edition, with our plate here being nearer a studio of Maitre Honore rather than the mater himself, though the composition is very similar. Perhaps Carl wanted this image to compare with the more readily accessible BL copy? I prefer this more austere version myself, but then again, I’m not a late Medieval nobleman.

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Four Saints

Additional 24686 F2v
Marburg (Lann

From the Courtauld stash, stamped with Kunsthist.Seminar on the verso, with the British Library call number again in Karl Nordenfalk’s handwriting. What was he researching, I wonder? In this case, it’s the Alphonso (previously) Tenison Psatler dated to c 1284. From the collection of the C17th Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Tenison (1636 – 1715), the psalter was recognised as having been commissoined for the marriage of Alphonso, Earl of Chester, the 10 year old son of Edward I to Margaret of Flanders, daughter of Count Florent V. The offspring of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, and first in line to the throne, Alphonso died in 1284, just 2 weeks before the wedding. This luxurious piece was put in hold, until being restarted for the wedding Alphonso’s sister, Elisabeth, Edward’s eighth daughter to to John I, the son of Florent in 1285. John died in 1299, while his father as killed on the orders of Edward 1 in 1296. It was subsequently added to by various owners at various later dates.

So who do we have here? St Catherine and her wheel and sword are pretty clear, as is St Margaret of Antioch, besting the lusty dragon from whose belly she burst. Both younger women, we have two older ladies in full headdress. One is St Anne, teaching her daughter, the virgin Mary, to read. The final saint is named below (cut off in Nordenfalk’s image; he was looking at style, not content) the image as St Barbara, with her lamp. These female saints might seem to be appropriate for the second use of the psalter, given the relative rarity of St Margaret in English illumination, and the ‘Barbara’, who might have been particular to Margaret. In any case, all are most suitable for exemplifying female virtue, constance and family life.

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Apocalypse 1160

Verdun, Bbl. de la ville, crd 66, Commentarius in Apocalpsin
Verduner Schule, wohl um 1160

This a photograph from my old Courtauld cache of a page from the Municipal library in Verdun, Northern France. It’s labelled as an image from the Commentary on the Apocalypse of St John the Divine; and there he is, John of Patmos being boiled in oil by the Emperor Domitian. Not only did the Saint miraculously survive, but the entire audience in the Coliseum were converted to Christianity. Still, he ended up being exiled to Patmos, anyway. I’m seeing the upper panel as the sinuous figure of John on his island, being divinely inspired to write his Apocalypse by an angel and a single trumpet.  This is page 1 after all. Unfortunately the online catalogue for the Verdun Library does not list this MS, and any search for Monasterio Sancti bitoni (from which this MS presumably came) only ends up with pages and pages of the pneumatic and distressingly hardcore Audrey Bitoni (ah, the internet!); which may mean that I’m mis-reading that lowercase b. It certainly seems that there is no Saint Bitoni; maybe a search of all x-itoni religious houses in Northern France?

Carl Nordenfalk, who took the photograph, helpfully indentifies it as School of Verdun, c 1160. It’s certainly early french, with beautiful sketchy style. I’d be surprised if the figures did not come from a musterbuch of some kind; though I’m equally surprised that Nordenfalk didn’t have a stab at identifying that himself. It’s clear that one of the books owners were similarly inspired to copy the figures and provide their own inscriptions; there may have been more, since it looks from the top edgge of the page that the book was cut down and rebound at some point.

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This a really rare image: I can’t find it anywhere else. It comes from a cache of b/w photographs that I was given when I worked at the slide library at the old Courtauld Institute in Home House, Portland Sq. I’ve always hoped that they were taken by someone really cool, like Willbald Sauerlander or Kurt Weitzmann…and one of these days I’ll try and research them; they’re all noted on the rear in pencil, and seem to have been produced for a conference paper in Germany.

Bibloteque Nationale fr 2186 Le Roman da la Poire f2v ca.1250

It’s an illumination on the reverse of the second page of a C13th manuscript of a secular french romance, Le Roman De La Poire (The Romance of the Pear), and it’s a beautiful illustration of the Wheel of Fortune. The Rota Fortunae was a very common and important medieval literary device, first made developed and popularised in Boethius’ ‘The Consolation of Philosophy’, written by the Roman aristocrat, politician and scholar Boethius as he awaited execution by Theoderic the Ostragoth in 525 CE. “I know how Fortune is ever most friendly and alluring to those whom she strives to deceive, until she overwhelms them with grief beyond bearing, by deserting them when least expected. … Are you trying to stay the force of her turning wheel? Ah! dull-witted mortal, if Fortune begin to stay still, she is no longer Fortune.”

Fortune, staring us directly in the face, a slight smile on her lips, turns her wheel, and the mighty are laid low, the humble raised up…and so it goes. It’s a great book of ideas, and very affecting; the last gasp of classicism echoing down to Alfred the Great, Carl Orff and Merv Griffin.

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