Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A 15th-Century Illustrated Breviary

While searching for an image to illustrate a recent post, I came across something added relatively recently (in February) to one of my favorite websites, that of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. As I have noted on other occasions, this site has an enormous number of digitized manuscripts of various kinds, including many liturgical books of all different periods. Here are the illustrated pages from a breviary which belonged to René of the house of Anjou (1409-80), who held an extraordinarily complicated series of noble titles at various points in his life (King of Naples, Count of Piedmont, Duke of Bar, of Lorraine, of Anjou, etc.) The illustrations are few, but of extremely high quality, and very cleverly chosen to match the liturgical texts they accompany. (Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal. Ms-601 réserve.)

Folio 1v, the frontispiece. A group of people, both male and female, are shown writing and playing instruments; the inscription at the bottom reads “Ycy sont ceulx et celles qui ont fait le psaultier – here are those who made the Psalter.” King David is depicted in the middle as an older man with a green crown, and his son Solomon, the author of two of the Psalms, to the left; the man at the desk to the right is probably Asaph, who is named as the author of several others. The rest of the company would be the other personages named in the titles, such as the sons of Core; this is a very unusual motif for a liturgical psalter.

Folio 5r, the first page of the Psalter. Throughout the manuscript, each line of the Psalms begins with a block letter in gold, alternating between red and blue for the background, but very few of the pages have an illuminated border like this one.
Folio 14r, the ferial Office of Monday. On the upper left side, the suicide of King Saul (1 Samuel 31); on the lower left, the election of David as king; on the right, his anointing and coronation (2 Samuel 5). This image was chosen in reference to Psalm 26, the first of the day, which is titled “a psalm of David, before he was anointed.”
Folio 20v, the ferial Office of Tuesday. King David weeps as he leaves the city of Jerusalem, driven into exile by the rebellious Absalom, who is seen entering the city in the middle. On the lower right, Shimei throws a stone at David; on the upper right, David and his men pray before an altar. (2 Samuel 16 et seq.) This episode is referred to in the titles of two of the Psalms, 3 and 142, but neither of these is said on this day; it was perhaps chosen in reference to the words of Psalm 43, “Thou hast afflicted Thy people and cast them out”, and that of David kneeling before the altar in reference to Psalm 42, “I will go unto the altar of God.”
Folio 27v, the ferial Office of Wednesday. David (not yet king) sneaks into the camp of Saul and steals his spear (1 Samuel 26); this episode took place at night, but is here shown as if it were in the day. Several of the Psalms in the portion of the Psalter assigned to this day (from 52-67) are referred by their titles to the events of David’s exile and persecution by Saul in the later chapters of 1 Samuel.
Folio 35r, the ferial Office of Thursday. The Flagellation of Christ is assigned to Thursday, rather than Friday, the day of His Passion, because of the words of Psalm 72, which is said on this day, “And I have been scourged all the day; and my chastisement hath been in the mornings.”
Folio 44, the ferial Office of Friday. Men playing instruments, including two trumpets with the banner of Lorraine, in reference to the opening words of the first Psalm of this day, Psalm 80, “Rejoice to God our helper: sing aloud to the God of Jacob. Take a psalm, and bring hither the timbrel, the pleasant psaltery with the harp.”
Folio 49v, the ferial Office of Saturday. The sacking and plundering of a city, with an apparition of Christ at the upper left, who says “I will have mercy and deliver.”
Folio 58v, the beginning of the temporal cycle. In the middle, the Holy Trinity is adored by an angel, and below them, the figures of Mercy, Truth, Justice and Peace; at the bottom, the Annunciation. On the border to either side, eight prophets of the Old Testament with their words of prophecy of the Incarnation.
Folio 86r, the beginning of the Office of Christmas.
Folio 124v, the Adoration of the Magi before the Office of Epiphany.
Folio 251v, before the Office of Easter. Below, the Virgin is seen in mourning, with two angels holding banderoles on which are written the words of the Regina caeli; above, the Risen Christ appears to Her.
Folio 261v, a page of text with a bit more decoration than the rest of the manuscript; this does not correspond to a particularly important feature of the text, which is that of Low Sunday.
Folio 297v, the Ascension. The words in the banderole, “Christ, ascending on high, led captivity captive”, (Ephesians 4, 8, citing Psalm 67, 19), are understood by the Fathers to refer to Christ bringing the souls of the just dead, the nude figures to either side, from the limbo of the Fathers into heaven. It is unusual for an image of the Ascension to show “the two men in white garments” mentioned in Acts 1, 10 without the Apostles.
Folio 298r, the Office of the Ascension, another of the few pages with a decorative border.
Folio 311v, the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. 
Folio 312r, the Office of Pentecost. 
Folio 320v, the Holy Trinity
Folio 321r, the Office of the Holy Trinity.
Folio 326v, a Corpus Christi procession; note the cylindrical monstrance, and the way the bishop is holding it, while still wearing his mitre.   
Folio 418r, the seventh from last of the manuscript, with a series of rubrics governing certain features of the liturgical year, according to the Use of the Roman Curia, the predecessor of the Breviary of St Pius V.

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