CHASTELLAIN, Georges Le Temple de Bocace, in French, finely illuminated de luxe manuscript on vellum

Central France, (probably Tours), c. 1500


245 by 163mm., 54 leaves (plus two original vellum endleaves and two modern paper endleaves at each end), complete, collation: i-vi8, vi6 (with fols. 3-54 foliated ii-Liii in a contemporary hand), single column, 23 lines in brown ink in a fine courtly lettre bâtarde, small initials in liquid gold on blue or burgundy grounds, long and thin line-fillers in same, larger initials in liquid gold or grey-white, on contrasting grounds heightened with white penwork, five large miniatures (either full-page or three-quarter page with a few lines of text on suspended scroll), small traces of cockling, but overall in outstanding condition on fine thick parchment with wide and clean margins, nineteenth- or early twentieth-century binding of blind-stamped morocco, profusely gilt-tooled inside front and back boards, marbled endleaves, in fitted case.

Around 1465 Georges Chastelain (1404-1474), a courtier of Phillip ‘the Good’, the powerful and staggeringly wealthy duke of Burgundy, reached the end of a work which had taken him six years to plan and compose: a continuation of Boccaccio’s De casibus virorum illustrium. He dedicated it to Marguerite of Anjou, daughter of René of Anjou and queen of England via her marriage to Henry VI of Lancaster, but at that time in exile in the Burgundian court, and made her the heroine of the drama. It opens in a dream-vision, describing her in a cemetery before the richly decorated tomb of Boccaccio, where a procession of 32 royal and famous men who were her contemporaries but have come to tragic ends is listed, including Richard II of England, James I and II of Scotland, Gilles de Rais, the notorious devil-worshipper and mass murderer, Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, who was thought to have ordered the death of his nephew Henry VI, William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, one of Henry VI’s supporters who was killed by the Yorkist faction, and many others. Marguerite summons Boccaccio and the two begin a long discussion on her misfortunes. That ends in Boccaccio reproaching her for her actions which inadvertently aided the rebellion against Henry VI, but offering her the
hope that while she lives her fortunes might change. Georges Chastelain served as official historiographer to the Burgundian ducal house, receiving in 1473 the extraordinary title “Chevalier es Lettres”, and thus he knew many of the subjects of this work intimately. The text was published in 1517 (but with variants not found here, hence this manuscript cannot be a copy of a printed text), again in modernised language in the 1860s, and finally in a modern critical edition produced in 1988 by S. Bliggenstorfer, having had access to this manuscript.

In addition to this one, only 15 manuscripts of the text are recorded (Bliggenstorfer in Vox Romanica Annales Helvetici Explorandis Linguis Romanicis Destinati XLIII, 1984, pp. 123- 53; Sandra Hindman’s updating of that list for Ferrini, cat. 1, adding the present manuscript, and the most recent in Bliggenstorfer’s 1988 edition). To these should be added another copy of the second half of the fifteenth century, sold by Sotheby’s, 22 June 1993, lot 92. Of these, six are in French public institutions, two are in the Royal Library in Brussels, three are in the British Library, one in the Vatican and another in the Laurentian Library in Florence. At present, there is no copy recorded in North America. Moreover, only six of these manuscripts (including the present one) are illuminated in any way with several of those having only one miniature. Hindman (for Ferrini, 1988) noted that this copy is “the most densely illustrated copy made in France”, exceeded only by Louis de Gruuthuyse’s copy which has eight miniatures (now BnF. ms. 1226). Only this one and that sold in Sotheby’s in 1993 have appeared on the market in living memory, and this is one of the very few copies to survive with a noble and important provenance.

The style of richly coloured draperies and backgrounds enclosing slightly wooden figures whose hands are often held in dramatic gestures with long expressive figures reminiscent of Mannerism, is that favoured by the tightly knit and often indistinguishable artists of the royal court of François I. Kraus connected his style to that of the key court artist, Jean Bourdichon (1457/9-1521), but his facial modelling owes as much to the popular Parisian miniaturist Jean Pichore (active 1501-20), and the rich palette and use of fine draperies in the backgrounds hints at the Master of François de Rohan (active 1525-46).

What is of importance here is that the cycle of miniatures stands quite apart from the Burgundian manuscript tradition, and thus must represent a separate French tradition, apparently designed by the artist of this manuscript for this commission.

The miniatures comprise:
1. Marguerite of Anjou speaking with Chastelain in his study, set within a gothic interior with the author holding a sheet of parchment and stood before a writing desk filled with books; above 4 lines of text on a scroll, and all within a full border of flowers and acanthus leaves on dull gold grounds.

2. Chastellain seated in his study, resting his head on a hand, before his bookcases and lectern; above 4 lines of text on a scroll, and all within a full border of flowers, fruit and acanthus leaves on dull gold grounds.

3. A cemetery divided into three parts: pagan, Jewish and Christian, with Boccaccio’s tomb as a sarcophagus beneath an architectural canopy supported by columns, the whole enclosed within a grey stone wall with crenelated top; above 4 lines of text on a scroll, and all within a full border of flowers and acanthus leaves on dull gold grounds. This scene not illustrated in Louis de Gruuthuyse’s copy.

4. Marguerite of Anjou kneeling in prayer and calling forth Boccaccio, who lies in an open tomb before her, all below a black night sky with white-grey stars; with two scrolls with text, and all within a full border of flowers and acanthus leaves on dull gold grounds.

5. Marguerite of Anjou seated with Boccacio on heavy wooden thrones, conversing, with her gesturing towards him and he counting off points on his fingers; above 2 lines of text on a scroll, and all within a full border of flowers, fruit and acanthus leaves on dull gold grounds.

Provenance1. Almost certainly from the private medieval library of Anne de Polignac (c. 1494-1554), wife of François II, comte de la Rochefoucauld, both court favourites of François I; the Emperor Charles V in 1539 is recorded as remarking that “he had not met or seen in this kingdom a more honourable and noble lady”. The book is listed among other manuscripts which were certainly hers in the inventory of the contents of the Rochefoucauld seat, the château de Verteuil, made in 1728, as item 768 in the library (M. Gérard, ‘Le Catalogue de la bibliothèque de La Rochefoucauld à Verteuil’, in Images de La Rochefoucauld, 1984, pp. 239-92). This book is very likely to have sat for a century or so on the same shelves as the splendid Rochefoucauld Grail manuscript, last sold at Sotheby’s, 7 December 2010, lot 33, for £2,393,000 (which had the arms of Anne’s husband added to it). The contents of the château remained in family ownership until the French Revolution, when the library passed by descent to Cardinal de Rohan-Chabot, with a small parcel of manuscripts from the collection appearing in an anonymous sale by Labitte in the Hotel Drouot, 18 March 1879, in which this volume was lot 21 (the BnF. copy of the catalogue marks the unnamed owner as “Duc de Rohan”).2. The library of the Pemberton family, Newton Hall, Cambridge: their printed armorial bookplate on front endleaf.3. Theodore Seligman (1856-1907), New York: his pen “T.S.” added to the Newton Hall bookplate; his sale Sotheby’s 30 April 1951, lot 186.4. Most probably from the collection of the grand bibliophile Martin Bodmer (1899-1971), and subsequently offered by H.P. Kraus among other items from Bodmer’s library in his cat. no. 126, Choice Books and Manuscripts from a Distinguished Private Library, 1971, no. 12: with Kraus’ cataloguer’s pencil notes and price code on last endleaf.5. B. Ferrini cat 1, Important Western Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts & Illuminated Leaves, 1987, no. 114.
Stock Number: K53 Category: Tag:

In stock