FRANCE 1500:
The Pictorial Arts at the Dawn of the Renaissance


The upward mobility of the nobility in a manuscript with an extremely rare Renaissance binding

Nicolas de Houssemaine,
Gestes des premiers comtes de Dammartin

Illuminated manuscript in French, on parchment
8 miniatures attributed to Jean Pichore
France, Paris, 1500-1503

This is the presentation copy of a highly personalised text made for Jean de Chabannes, one of the Counts of Dammartin, whose family was close to the royal house. In word and image it glorifies the line of the counts, recounting celebrated events in which they figure as heroes in the history of France. In its superb, extremely rare contemporary binding composed of horizontal bands of gold and purple over wooden boards, the manuscript is a testimony to the taste of its owner, who seeks to make a place for himself in the highest ranks of the royal court, and the refinement of the age. The miniatures by Jean Pichore, then living in Paris, grace the handsomely written text, completing a lavish ensemble.

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From the library of Jean Budé, notary and secretary to the King, with a celebrated provenance

Haimo of Auxerre,
Expositio in epistolas Sancti Pauli

lluminated manuscript in Latin on parchment
Frontispiece attributed to the Maîitre François
France, likely Paris, 1481

This artistically lovely manuscript was commissioned by or for Jean Budé. In the opening frontispiece, St. Paul, enthroned against a backdrop of fleurs-de-lys, the symbol of French kingship, entrusts a messenger boy—shown here as Guiillaume Budé —with a mediaeval document with seal; through the open window. Friend of Erasmus, founder of the College de France and the Bibliotheque du Roy, Guillaume was considered the “most learned man in France at the beginning of the 16th century.” The manuscript passed from his collection to that of Joseph Barrois, to the 4th Earl of Ashburnham, and eventually to William Foyle.

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Official painter to four successive French kings and known for his many deluxe commissions

Jean Bourdichon (Tours, 1457-1521)
Presentation in the Temple (115 x 80 mm.)
France, probably Tours, c. 1500

This previously unknown, exquisite small manuscript leaf was painted by Jean Bourdichon, who served as the official court painter to four successive French kings: Louis XI, Charles VIII, Louis XII, and François I. He designed stained glass windows, coins, and gold plate, illuminated manuscripts, and executed independent paintings. Pupil of Jean Fouquet of Tours, Bourdichon is known today primarily for his manuscript illuminations, such as the present painting, which comes from an unidentified Book of Hours. The exquisite treatment of the beard of the High Priest, the face of the Virgin Mary, and the accomplished architectural setting are all hallmarks of his accomplished style.

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Which is better: hunting with dogs or hunting with birds? Answer: Dogs!

Master of François de Rohan
(fl. c. 1525-46)
Messenger brings a Letter: the Judgment (270 x 205 mm.)
France, probably Paris, c. 1525-30

This manuscript illumination concludes a sequence of four miniatures from the only surviving copy of a poem by Guillaume Cretin, the Débat entre deux dames. The first of the series is in the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the two others are in a private collection. Of Swiss or Germanic origin, the painter enjoyed a long career and like many artists of his day he was responsible for designing woodcuts as well as illuminating manuscripts. Cretin’s treatise contrasts hunting with dogs to hunting with birds, a subject of certain interest to the French nobility and royal circle. This miniature concludes the sequence, where the Constable of France is to determine which form of hunting is the most desired. Dogs are the victors in the debate.

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The influence of the North on High Renaissance manuscript painting at the court of France

Noel Bellemare
(Antwerp-Paris, died 1546)
Job Beset by Satan (miniature 74 x 51 mm.)
France, Paris or Tours, c. 1530-35

This highly finished and refined French Renaissance manuscript illumination comes from an important Book of Hours, once in the collection of Baron Jérôme Pichon. It is one of a group of at least fourteen full-page miniatures, of which three are now in the Musée du Louvre. Son of a Parisian mother and an Antwerp father, the artist, identified as Noel Bellemare, began his career in Antwerp and was established in Paris before 1520. He is responsible for bringing the effects of northern mannerism to the Renaissance court of France. At the end of his career he worked in Fontainebleau for the court, where they designated him as “master painter.”

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The illustrious career of a talented multi-media artist in the changing milieu of Paris c. 1500

Master of the Très Petites Heures of
Anne of Brittany (attr.)

The Nativity (hand coloring, 215 x 140 mm.)
Wood, the flat cover reinforced by 9 iron fittings, a lock, a key and a chain, the interior lined with red canvas; with a second “hidden” compartment (169 x 240 x 90 mm.)
France, Paris, c. 1490-1500

At least twelve impressions are known of the Nativity, and two slightly different woodblocks were used. The coloring is virtually identical on all surviving prints and must have been mechanically applied by stencil. All the prints bear the same Latin prayer, an antiphon for Lauds on the octave of the Nativity. The prolific and skilful illuminator who designed the woodcuts is known to have supplied designs for manuscript illumination, stained glass, tapestry, and woodcuts during the incunable period. The function of the boxes with their straps for carrying, padding on the undersides, and hidden compartments remains mysterious—messenger boxes, relic containers, portable altars, Missal boxes, all these uses have been suggested, but none confirmed.

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A monumental stained glass by the “master glass painter” of the Cathedral of Rouen

Guillaume Barbe (fl. 1459-1485)
Portrait of a King holding a Sceptre (75 x 62 mm.)
Grisaille on off-white glass, back painting reinforcing the modeling, pot-metal glass used as fillers or stop-gaps
Rouen Cathedral, c. 1465

This imposing figure most likely derives from the massive window of the Petit-Saint-Romain, which was in the last chapel to the south of the nave in Rouen Cathedral. The ensemble was redone in 1875, then destroyed in 1944 and many heads, as well as larger panels, circulate in the private sector employing these pieces in new compositions. The subtle use of grisaille for the face, the drooping eyelids, and other individualistic features characterize the work of Guillaume Barbe, who must have maintained a large workshop near the Cathedral. Many of his most important works are now displayed in the Musée Départemental des Antiquités in Rouen.

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