A ROYAL COMMISSION
Sermons, in Latin, illuminated manuscript on parchment[France, (Lyon), c. 1400]
288mm. by 196mm., 220 leaves (plus modern parchment pastedown and endleaf at front), complete, collation: i-xviii12, xix4 (including final pastedown), contemporary foliation for first 100 leaves and catchwords throughout (frequently with charming pen-drawn human faces: see in particular the melancholic man on fol. 24v, the staring and perturbed men on fols. 37v and 87v, and the smiling woman in a wimple with a big nose on fol. 121v), some original quire signatures. Double column, 45-49 lines in an accomplished hands with influence of secretarial script and cadels in margin, each new section opening with initials in red or blue with contrasting penwork ending in foliage or curlicues, index with similar smaller initials for each item, frontispiece with one large initial in split blue and burnished gold with red and blue penwork forming a mass of scrolling foliate tendrils around central coloured dots, extending into full border and text frame between columns of thin gold bars edged on one side with blue and gold half fleur-de-lys, penwork at corners, slight thumbing at edges and tiny scuffs to large initial, sixth gathering becoming loose, slightly trimmed at base, else fine and very presentable condition with wide and clean margins on good parchment. Contemporary, probably English, blindstamped calf over bevelled wooden boards (small holes, wormed and cracked at corners, small sections at head and foot of spine missing, partially repaired), later metal clasps and catches, but solid in binding., contemp mss inscriptions, shield and largely erased name on final pastedowns. In folding box.
The use of gold and blue half-fleur-de-lys devices in the decoration of this large and impressive volume identifies it as part of a small group of surviving manuscripts which were produced for Charles V, the Duc de Berry and other members of the French royal family – that is, the single greatest bibliophilic family of the entire Middle Ages. The distinctive decoration in known in the French royal inventories as “enluminé tout au long des colombes de fleur de lis d’or et d’assur” (Delisle, Cabinet des Manuscrits, III, p.139), and seems to have been a preserve of a group of manuscript artists when working solely for this noble and bibliophilic kin-group. The copy of Les Grandes Chroniques with one full-page miniature and 33 small miniatures sold by Sotheby’s, 8 December 1981, lot 94, was made c. 1380 by Parisian court scribes and painters for Jean, Duc de Berry (1340-1416), son of Jean le Bon and brother of Charles V, and has near-identical decoration, variegated initials using gold, and dimensions (see Sotheby’s cat. p. 120). The contemporary fragmentary Histoire Ancienne, now British Library, Egerton MS. 912, is part of this same group, and to these should be added the Vincent of Beauvais, Speculum Historiale, sold by Sotheby’s, 7 December 1982, lot 53, later Schoenberg collection (see Transformation of Knowledge, 2006, no. IX:11, p. 137), and the present volume.
In addition, the present volume has great individual merit. While it, like the Vincent of Beauvais listed above, cannot be easily located among the French royal inventories, it is unlikely to have been produced for a patron outside the royal house. The scribe and artist will have known the French royals intimately, and careful study will probably detect their influences in other books made for the court. The sermon collection is also apparently unrecorded and unstudied, and may contain further links to the devotions of this noble family which could point towards to a particular individual.