Tuesday, March 24, 2020

A 15th Century Lectionary

Here is another interesting find from the website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, an epistle lectionary according to the Use of Amiens, dated 1475-1505. (Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal. Ms-662 réserve). It was donated by the mayor of Amiens, Antoine Clabault, together with his wife, Ysabel Fauvel, to a church near Amiens called St-Martin-au-Val; the initials of their first names appear on each of the 14 illustrated pages. The anonymous illustrator, whose work is of very high quality, is referred to as the Master of Antoine Clabault.

The First Sunday of Advent: in the main panel, two prophets, Micah and Isaiah, with two sybils, the pagan prophetesses of the Greco-Roman world who were also believed to have prophecied the coming of the Messiah. On the side, the prophet Habakkuk and another sybil.
The Epistle for the Third Mass of Christmas, which begins with the words “God, who, at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets.” (Hebrews 1, 1) In the main panel, King Nebuchadnezzar (who, like many monarchs in medieval art, goes to bed without taking off his crown), has his dream of “a stone cut out of a mountain without hands” (Daniel 2, 34), which was understood by the Fathers as a prophecy of the Virgin Birth. At the lower left, the setting up of the golden statue, and above, the three children thrown into the furnace, from chapter 3. 
The Epiphany: King Solomon receives tributes. This subject is determined by Psalm 71, which is sung at Epiphany Matins, and titled “a psalm of Solomon”, specifically in reference to the words of verse 10, “The kings of Tharsis and the islands shall offer presents, the kings of the Arabians and of Saba shall bring gifts.” I confess that I am not sure what is going on in the images in the two small panels at the right, and would be happy to hear explanations of them from our readers. At the bottom, Clabault’s arms are held by a “wild man”, a popular character in the marginal illustration of Books of Hours.
UPDATE: TB has correctly identified the scenes in the panels on the right as the episode narrated in 2 Samuel 23, 14-17, and its parallel in 1 Chronicles 11, 16-19, of the soldiers who bring King David water from the cistern of Bethlehem during a siege; it is not clear why this subject should be chosen for the Epiphany.
Easter Sunday: three stories from the Book of Jonah.
The Ascension: in the main panel, the ascent of Elijah in the fiery chariot (4 Kings 2); in the side panels, Elijah and the widow of Sarephta (3 Kings 17, 8-16).
Pentecost: in the main panel, the gathering of the manna (Exodus 16); in the side panels, the Crossing of the Red Sea, one of the prophecies of the vigil of Pentecost.
Trinity Sunday: St John’s Vision of the Trinity, from the Epistle of the day, Apocalypse 4. (This was a common medieval variant, where the Use of Rome reads Romans 11, 33-36.)
Corpus Christi: in the main panel, a representation of the Gospel of the Sunday after Corpus Christi, Luke 14, 16-24, “A certain man made a great supper, and invited many.” In the lower panel on the right, the battle in the vale of Siddim, after which Melchisedek (above) offers tithes to Abraham of “bread and wine” (Genesis 14), understood from the most ancient times as a figure of the Eucharist.
The Nativity of St John the Baptist: in the main panel, John points the Lamb of God out to the crowd; he is shown in a wilderness, rather than the traditional desert, as indicated by the animals in the trees, namely, a lion, an elk, a unicorn and an elephant. At the lower left is the scene of his birth, and above that, John speaks before Herod and Herodias.
The feast of St Mary Magdalene; in the main panel, she washes Christ’s feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee; at the lower left, she listens to His preaching, and above that, she purchases the ointments for the anointing at the apothecary (as one does).
The Assumption: the upper panel on the left shows the Tree of Jesse. At the lower left, a woman with a sword fends off a man on horseback with a whip, the meaning of which also escapes me.
UPDATE: Bernonensis has correctly identified the scene at the lower left as the episode of Balaam and the Angel, Numbers 22, 22-23; it is not clear why this subject should be chosen for the Assumption.

This rather startling image appears with the Epistle for the feast of St Firmin, patron Saint of Amiens, on September 25th. He is traditionally said to have been a native of Pamplona in Spain, where the famous running of the bulls is still held in his honor each year in June, and later to have traveled into Gaul, become the first bishop of Amiens, and died there as a martyr, but by decapitation, not sawn in half as seen here. In the lower right panel, the offerings of Cain and Abel, and above that, the murder of Abel.
The feast of All Saints.
Most of the pages look like this, with a few illuminated letters; the rubrics are predominantely in gold paint.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: