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2004-2005 Visiting Fellows

Diane Booton
Houghton Library, Harvard University

I.   Purpose of the grant

A generous research grant from the Friends of Princeton University Library allowed me to visit the Special Collections at the Firestone Library in February 2005, to study late medieval manuscripts as part of my research for a book, Illuminating Brittany:   Patronage and Manuscript Production in Late Medieval Brittany .   My book will analyze the scope of patronage, book ownership and commercial manuscript production in the duchy of Brittany from 1365 to 1520.   Often considered a provincial backwater, Brittany was, however, well-placed to benefit politically, economically and culturally from the kingdoms of France and England .   Strategic marriages tied the family to the royal courts that oversaw the tutelage of Jean IV (1340?-1399) in England and that of Jean V (1389-1442) in France .   Their ducal successors-François I (1414-1450), Pierre II (1418-1457), Arthur III (1392-1458) and François II (1435-1488)-worked to keep the dynasty and duchy strong in the f ace of French territorial aggression.


II .   Manuscripts

The Carmelite missal of Nantes (Garrett 40), in which the dukes and duchesses of Brittany are abundantly portrayed, was the highlight and most important of the half dozen manuscripts selected for my study.   The remarkable "portraits" of the Montfort family in a Breton liturgical manuscript are unprecedented as a cycle of potent dynastic imagery.   In addition to issues of codicology, iconography and artistic attribution, my research examines the family's artistic and religious patronage as a means to convey ideological intention in the public sphere.  

A late fifteenth-century book of hours (Garrett 55) commissioned by Marguerite de Rohan (ca. 1420-1495), countess of Angoulême, also visualizes a familial dynasty by means of coats of arms painted within four miniatures, as well as by a large-scale representation of the countess in prayer.   Additional books of hours (Garrett 47, 48, Taylor 7) were important for my study as representations of the predominant cross-currents of stylistic influences apparent in late medieval Breton manuscripts, notably Parisian, Angevin and Poitevin.

Le Secret des Secrets (Garrett 130) was a popular secular treatise in French concerning moral ethics, politics, medicine, astronomy and alchemy.   Its illumination and attribution to the Master of Marguerite d'Orléans (after Paris, BnF, MS lat. 1156 B), who is said to have influenced a Breton school of manuscript illuminators in Rennes, are significant to my study.

III .   Research findings

The Carmelite missal (Garrett 40) visually records the Montfort family's patronage of the order in Nantes, as well as the family's dynastic aspirations.   Illuminated primarily ca. 1455-1465 by two artists, with additions ca. 1471-1477 by a third, the missal may have been commissioned by Françoise Amboise (d. 1485), wife of Duke Pierre II (reigned 1455-1457), who had commissioned a book of hours from one of the artists (Paris, BnF, MS lat. 1159).   The duchess owned a Carmelite breviary that survives, containing her presumed autograph (Nantes, Mediathèque, MS 32).   In 1468, Françoise Amboise, who was later beatified, joined the Carmelite order of the newly founded convent of Bondon, near Vannes.  

The first Carmelite church was founded in Nantes in 1318, but only obtained significant ducal patronage in 1365, when, during the ceremonial entry of Duke Jean IV, acts perceived as miracles wrought by the Our Lady statue in the Carmelite Church cemented popular support for the order.   Whether for reasons of religious faith or public relations, the duke donated generously to the Carmelite brothers, enabling them to construct their church and other buildings, as depicted in the missal's opening miniature.   Another miniature depicts a significant grant to the Carmelite order by Duke Jean V, as he donates his weight in gold in fulfillment of a personal vow.   These and other illustrative acts demonstrate the close ties between the ducal family and the Carmelite order of Nantes, a relationship represented in the missal through retrospective and commemorative illustrations of successive dukes and family members until the reign of the last Montfort duke, François II (reigned 1458-1488). < /p>

Another Princeton manuscript once owned by a Breton-born patron is a late fifteenth-century book of hours owned by Marguerite de Rohan, daughter of Alain IX, vicomte de Rohan, comte de Porhoet and granddaughter of Duke Jean IV (Garrett 55).   Her book of hours exemplifies a noble lady's expensive prayer book, illuminated with high quality miniatures in the latest fashion.   As self-absorbed as the Montfort-commissioned Carmelite missal, Marguerite's coat of arms appears with narrative illustrations for the Marian and christological cycles, as well as in Marguerite's "portrait" representation before Christ shown as the "Salvator mundi" (although the illuminator accidentally reversed her armorial colors).   Marguerite's prayer book is written for the use of Paris, which, together with the use of Rome, enjoyed widespread popularity throughout French dioceses.   In her prayer book, a few Breton saints supplement the usual Parisian saints in its calendar, thereby highlighting her native reli gious tradition.   The anonymous illuminator, who painted in the style of the official court painter/illuminator Jean Bourdichon (1457-1521) of Tours, elevates Marguerite's book of hours to a level emulative and on par with French royal tastes.

Pseudo-Aristotle's Le Secret des secrets (Garrett 130) was another important manuscript for my research, because it raised questions concerning its attribution to an artist known as the Master of Marguerite d'Orléans,, who, according to the art historian Eberhard König, allegedly worked in medieval Brittany.   The stylistic observations and artistic attributions of König are frequently repeated in the literature without further scrutiny for their validity.   For example, König has attributed the Last Judgement miniature in Garrett 130 to the Master of Marguerite d'Orléans, after the latter's book of hours ( Paris, BnF, MS lat. 1156 B, ca. 1435).   A visual comparison between the Princeton and Paris manuscripts (via glossy photographs), however, reveals a different conception of painting facial features and drapery, sufficiently dissimilar to question the current attribution.

In sum, these beautiful and important manuscripts have contributed significantly to my understanding of how dynastic ideologies of power may be visualized in self-referential images in public and private venues.   Furthermore, it is apparent, contrary to another of König's premises, that the Breton upper nobility willingly patronized non-regional artists in order to commission sumptuously illuminated manuscripts.   Finally, the Princeton manuscripts highlight noteworthy stylistic issues, from the specialization of artists within a single manuscript to uncertainties of artistic attribution, all of which pertain to the fundamental concerns of my project.   I am very grateful for the kind assistance of the curators and staff in Special Collections and to generosity of the Friends of the University Library for making my research possible.


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