Friday, July 26, 2019

The Hours Of King Henry II of France

Here is another very beautiful illuminated manuscript from the website of the Bibliothèque national de France (Département des manuscrits, Latin 1429), a book of Hours made for King Henry II of France, who was born in 1519, and reigned from 1547 until his death in 1559. (During a tournament, he was injured in the eye by a fragment of his opponent’s lance, and died of sepsis after only ten days, an event which did much to end the popularity of jousting.) There are only 20 illustrated pages in the manuscript of 124 folios, and three of the images are very small, but they are all of an exceptionally high quality, and clearly show the strong influence of the Italian Renaissance. The majority of the images represent Biblical stories, some of which have no readily discernible relationship to the text they accompany.

Many books of Hours included a group of four Gospels, one from each of the Evangelists: John 1, 1-14, the Gospel of Christmas day; Luke 1, 26-38, the Annunciation; Matthew 2, 1-12, the Epiphany; and Mark 16, 14-20, the Ascension. This image (folio 3v) introduces the Gospel from St John; note the three faces of God, a type of representation which will be formally banned not long after this, in the wake of the Council of Trent. The eagle of St John has an inkpot and scroll case in its mouth.

Folio 5r, the beginning of the Gospel of St Luke. The lettering type seen here was popular with the Italian humanists of the 15th and 16th centuries, partly for the practical reason that it is easier to read than the Fraktur typefaces normally used by the Germans who invented movable type, partly because they believed it to be ancient Roman. (It actually comes from manuscripts of the Carolingian era.) The book has almost no abbreviations in the text, an unmistakable sign that it was made for a very wealthy person not concerned about saving space on the expensive paper.
Folio 8r; in the background, the Prophet Jonah is thrown into the sea, and in the foreground is spat out onto land by the whale. This precedes the Passion of St John, which covers the next 13 pages, and is followed by a prayer; Jonah is of course a symbol of Christ in His Passion.

Folio 15v, the Prophet Elisha multiplies the widow’s oil, (4 Kings 4, 1-7, the Epistle of Tuesday of the 3rd week of Lent). This precedes Matins of the Little Office of the Virgin Mary, perhaps in reference to the words of Psalm 44, “Thou hast loved justice, and hated iniquity: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows,” words eminently suitable to emphasize to a king. Note the ruins in the background, which derive from the Renaissance interest in the classical world; the building to the left is very reminiscent of the Colosseum.
Folio 28r, Jacob wrestles with the Angel (Genesis 32, 23-32); this is placed before Lauds of the Little Office, perhaps in reference to the words of the Benedicite “let Israel bless the Lord”, since it was at this episode that Jacob received the name Israel.

Folio 37r, the episode of the Bronze Serpent, Numbers 21, 4-9; this is placed before Matins of the Office of the Holy Cross for obvious reasons, since Christ Himself refers to it (John 3, 14) as a symbol of His Crucifixion.

Folio 38v, Abraham’s vision of the Trinity (Genesis 18, 1-10), placed before Matins of the Office of the Holy Spirit, since the feast of the Trinity is also the octave of Pentecost.
Folio 40r, St Peter’s vision of the sheet with the clean and unclean animals (Acts 10, 9-16), before Prime of the Little Office, in reference to Psalm 116, the third of that Hour: “O praise the Lord, all ye nations; praise him, all ye people. For his mercy is confirmed upon us, and the truth of the Lord remaineth for ever.”

Folio 45r, Moses makes water run from the rock (Numbers 20, 1-16), before Terce of the Little Office. This may refer to the words of Psalm 119, “In my trouble I cried to the Lord: and he heard me,” as the children of Israel cried out for water in the desert, and also to the words “Woe is me, that my sojourning is prolonged!”, as their sojourn in the desert was prolonged.

Folio 49v, the three children in the furnace (Daniel 3), before Sext of the Little Office.
Folio 54r, the ascent of Elijah in the fiery chariot (4 Kings 2, 11-12), before None of the Little Office.
Folio 58v, Samson carries away the gates of Gaza (Judges 16, 1-3), before Vespers of the Little Office; in the background is another building inspired by the ruins of the Colosseum.
Folio 65v, the Prophet Elijah is fed by an angel (3 Kings 19, 4-9), before Compline of the Little Office.
Folio 73v, the trials of Job, who is rebuked by his wife (Job 1-2), one of the common motifs used to introduce the Penitential Psalms; together with the Litany of the Saints, these occupy the next 27 pages.

Folio 87v, the prophet Habakkuk brings food to Daniel in the lions’ den (Daniel 14, 35-37, from the Epistle of Passion Tuesday), before the Office of the Dead. This refers to the third antiphon of Matins of the Dead, “Lest at any time he seize upon my soul like a lion, while there is no one to redeem me, nor to save,” Psalm 7, 3.
Folio 107v, King Henry uses the royal touch to heal scrofula, a practice which by the time of his coronation in 1547 had been part of the coronation rite of the French kings for centuries. This precedes a series of prayers “which the Kings of France are wont to say when they wish to touch those who are ill with scrofula.”

Folio 2v, the frontispiece with the arms of the king
Folio 3r, with the inscription “To Henry II, most Christian king of the French, most happily.”
Folio 6v, the beginning of the Gospel from St Matthew
Folio 7v, the beginning of the Gospel from St Mark

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