Friday, March 27, 2020

A 15th Century Gospel Book

On Tuesday, I published a piece with the illustrated pages of an epistle lectionary produced at the end of the 15th century, or very beginning of the 16th, according to the Use of Amiens, another of the endless treasures on the website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The same couple who donated it to the church of St-Martin-au-Va near Amiens, a mayor of Amiens named Antoine Clabault, and his wife, Ysabel Fauvel, also commissioned a Gospel lectionary (Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal. Ms-661 réserve), but from a different artist, who is known from one of his other works as the Master of the Dresden Hours. The 13 illustrated pages here are all for the same liturgical days as in the epistle book. It is not altogether clear to me what is happening in a few of the marginal images, and I will be happy to hear suggestions from readers in the combox.

The First Sunday of Advent. In many medieval Uses, especially in the north of Europe, the Gospel for this Sunday was that of the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem, Matthew 21, 1-9, which is shown here in the main panel. At the upper right, Christ preaches in the temple; below that, the apostles get the donkey. At the bottom, angels play trumpets and a drum, while another holds the coat of arms of the mayor.
Christmas Day: the Adoration of the Shepherds. At the upper right is depicted a legendary episode which was very popular in the Middle Ages, in which one of the pagan prophetesses known as the Sybils shows a vision of the Virgin and Child to the Emperor Augustus. Below that is the appearance of the angel to St Joseph, followed by the appearance of an angel to Gideon (Judges 6). This last one is included because the episode of the fleece at the end of the same chapter has traditionally been understood as a prophecy of the virginal Incarnation, as stated in one of the antiphons of the Circumcision: “When Thou wast born ineffably of the Virgin, then were the Scriptures fulfilled; like the dew upon the fleece Thou camest down, that Thou might save the human race; we praise thee, O our God!”; the fleece is seen at the bottom of the circle. On the left side are shown in descending order the Saints whose feasts follow Christmas, Ss Stephen, John the Evangelist, and one of the Holy Innocents, with his mother weeping over him. Note the very elaborate jeweled framework around the initials A and Y for Antoine and Ysabel at the bottom; the artist is much more creative in these parts than his counterpart who did the Epistle book.
The Epiphany, with the flight into Egypt and the Wedding at Cana on the left, and the Baptism of Christ below.
Easter Sunday, with the Appearance to St Mary Magdalene and the Supper at Emmaus on the left.
The Ascension, with the Descent into Hell at the upper right; I am unsure about the episode in the panel below that. The small panel shows St Mark the Evangelist, whose Gospel is rarely read in the Roman Rite, but does have two of the most important major feasts, Easter and the Ascension.
Pentecost, with two other manifestations of Christ, His Baptism and Transfiguration, in the panels on the right. A figure in green is writing in a small panel below them; I am not sure who he is.
The feast of the Holy Trinity; as in most northern European Uses of the Roman Rite, the Gospel is that of Nicodemus’ meeting with Christ, John 3, 1-15. At the upper right is the appearance of the Trinity to Abraham (Genesis 18, 1-10), with St John the Evangelist below that. The lowest of the three images is the famous legend (alas, only a legend) according to which St Augustine, after finishing his book on the Trinity, went for a walk on the shore, where saw a child trying to pour the sea into a hole in the sand. When he told him that this was impossible, the child responded that it was also impossible to explain the Trinity, and vanished.
Corpus Christi. At the upper right, a naked man tied to a tree is being stabbed in the neck and speared in the side; I have no idea who he is or why this is happening to him. Below that, two Angels hold a chalice with a Host floating over it which is partially black. This refers to the story of St Juliana of Mont-Cornillon (1192 ca. - 1252), an abbey near Liège, who for many years had a vision of a partially darkened moon; the meaning of it was imparted to her by the Lord Himself, namely, that something was missing from the liturgical year, since there was no special feast to honor the Blessed Sacrament. This would lead to the official institution of such a feast when the former archdeacon of Liège, Cardinal Jacques Pantaléon, was elected to the papacy with the name Urban IV. Below that, Abigail feeds the company of David, as recounted in 1 Samuel 25.
The Birth of St John the Baptist. At the upper right, his father Zachary is offering incense in the temple (in front of an altar with a very typically medieval reliquary on it); below that, Salome presents the head of the Baptist to Herod and Herodias, and Salome receives the head from the executioner.
The feast of St Mary Magdalene; the three stories here are all part of the legend that she and her siblings ended up in Provence. At the lower left, she is shown preaching and evangelizing; above that, she is shown at the cave where she went to live a purely contemplative life, being visited by a local hermit. In the main panel, she is shown being rapt into heaven, as the legend says she was every day for many years before she died.
The feast of the Assumption. At the upper left, St Thomas the Apostle receives Her belt; below that, St Luke the Evangelist, from whom the Gospel of the feast is taken (chapter 10, 38-42), and below that, the Apostles gathered around Her empty sarcophagus
Scenes from the martyrdom of St Firmin, the Patron Saint of Amiens, whose feast is kept on September 25th.
The feast of All Saints; at the lower left, St Matthew, from whom the Gospel of the Beatitudes is read on this day, chapter 5, 1-12.
The end of the Gospel of the midnight Mass of Christmas, Luke 2, 1-14, and the beginning of the Gospel of the Genealogy of Christ, Matthew 1, 1-16, which is sung after the Te Deum of Christmas Matins in most medieval Uses of the Roman Rite. The illuminated letters seen here are typical of those in the rest of the book.

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