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Illuminators

DELICATELY POISED ON HISTORY:
Jean Poyer

Daniele Guernelli

 

Vertiginous quality, pure class and the ability to render colour highly vivid, making illuminated pages sparkle with their own light and enveloping them – if need be – with masterly flashes of night, as is the case in the Taking of Christ in the immensely beautiful Briçonnet Book of Hours at the Teylers Museum in Haarlem (Ms. 78). At the end of the fifteenth century, these talents allowed Jean Poyer to climb to the heights of the art of miniature beyond the Alps, leaving proof of his superb pictorial mastery in a series of astounding illuminated manuscripts. The exact date of Poyer’s birth is unknown but it is probably sometime in first half of the 1440s, if not earlier, as he is already documented as active and independent in 1465. His father can probably be identified as Mathelin (or Maturin) Poyer, he too an artist, to whom, coincidentally, there is a payment documented in 1453 for the preparation of the king’s arms (eight livres and five sols tournois). From then on, the young Poyer must have made his own way in world, and heraldry often seems to have provided him with a source of income. In 1483 he was paid more than 157 livres tournois for painting a total of 1031 coats of arms (!), which were to be attached to an equal number of candlesticks and torches intended for the funeral of Queen Charlotte of Savoy, wife of Louis XI, king of France. In this document, he is cited as a retinue of the court, where he evidently held a position under her majesty the queen. This is demonstrated by the assignment of a good three measures (aunes) of cloth to the artist, items that were highly regarded at the court and clearly reflected his social status (the valets only received two and the highest level of recognition was three and a half). This is also interesting because it makes it possible to remember, if ever necessary, that artists of this time took on a range of tasks and responsibilities that was definitely broader than one normally thinks, in keeping with the interdisciplinarity typical of the fifteenth century. Critics have also suggested that Poyer may have travelled to Italy, which seems to be backed by the stylistic facies of the remarkable Triptych of the Crucifixion in Loches (Musée du Château). In addition to the influence of Italian art and of local tradition, with which the art of Jean Fouquet and Jean Colombe (Alumina, 39, 2012) had reached considerable heights, Poyer was also influenced by Flemish factors. He actually organised a major part of his work around an item that was then a bestseller of Franco-Flemish production: the Book of Hours, such as, for example, the one he made for Mary of England (Lyon, Bibliothéque Municipale, Ms. 1558) dated 1495–1500.

 

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Cartography

THE TOM TOM OF THE MEDITERRANEAN

Gabriel de Vallseca’s Carta Náutica

Ramón J. Pujades i Bataller

Majorca, winter of 1838. A fantastic portolan chart, made in 1439 by the great Jewish cartographer Gabriel de Vallseca, is at the centre of an unfortunate accident witnessed by two exceptional individuals: Frédéric Chopin and George Sand. An inkwell is overturned on the large map damaging part of what it represented. Saved in extremis, this invaluable cartographic relic is now the pride of the Maritime Museum of Barcelona. Gabriel de Vallseca was born into a converted Jewish family living in one of Barcelona’s Jewish neighbourhoods.

It is quite likely that his parents had converted to Christianity during the assaults on the ghettos of Catalonia and Aragon in the summer of 1391. The documents tell us that Gabriel de Vallseca had spent enough time in Barcelona to be granted citizenship, a privilege that required both being of age and owning a home. This makes it evident that Vallseca spent the first part of his life in Barcelona, where he was probably educated in calligraphy and painting. Later on, towards the end 1433, documents show him to have been a resident of Majorca and the head of a perfectly organized cartographic workshop, making it possible to assume that he had moved to the city of Palma at least two years earlier. The last document we have with his signature is dated 1471. Another testimony, written seven years later, specifies that the Vallseca workshop had been taken over by his son Joan, meaning that Gabriel de Vallseca must have died at an unspecified date within this time interval. Of the two thousand maps that are estimated to have been produced by his workshop, three are signed and another two can be directly attributed to him. Of these five, the most beautiful – and the oldest – is the one from 1439.

 

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Illuminators

THE CASTLE OF LOST ART

Interview with Màlleus

Lia Cesareo

The atmosphere is one of tacit, intent silence, interrupted only by the slight, almost imperceptible scratching of pens, by the illuminators holding back their breath as they wrestle with very thin sheets of gold leaf, and by the rustle of brushes gently laying a real galaxy of colour on the smooth surface of the parchment: lapis lazuli, orpiment, cinnabar, purple, ochre, verdigris, and a full range of extraordinary hues of mineral, vegetal (and even animal) origin rediscovered through careful analyses of ancient treatises. The rooms are spacious and filled with light, shaded just enough to hold back the bright blue of the sky of the Marches and a radiant sun that has just turned the wheat fields to gold, distracting the illuminators’ attention from the innumerable, delicate operations required to give life and colour to the sheet of parchment. We are at the Antica Bottega Amanuense, a modern calligraphy and illumination workshop founded in 1988 by Enrico Ragni – who goes by the name Màlleus in art – in the wonderful setting of the Màlleus Castle in Recanati, with the aim of resuming the study, practice and distribution of two long-forgotten arts: calligraphy and the miniature. Màlleus’s is happy and successful entrepreneurial adventure, born in a land that has always had an excellent vocation for manual skills and high quality craftsmanship, holding high the banner of Made in Italy throughout the world. Even in such a narrow and marginal niche as calligraphy and the miniature, this small business in the Marches has been built into a truly international phenomenon.

 

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Illuminators

LE PRINCE D’ENLUMINURE

Simon Marmion

Daniele Guernelli

Held in the highest esteem by sovereigns, emperors, dukes and marquises, celebrated by intellectual and poets, and praised by the chronicles as the most gifted artist of his time, Simon Marmion was truly one of the most undisputed heights of European illumination in the mid-fifteenth century. He was capable of combining extraordi- nary attention to detail, a refined and talented use of colour, and a particular focus on the landscape. In his time, moreover, the duchy of Burgundy was one of the most refined European centres, able to influence the culture and pol- itics of the entire continent. Marmion’s story unfolded here in this defunct state, now divid- ed between France, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. It is no wonder his fame was so widespread. He was an illumi- nator and a painter, and his skill in rendering detail, already in and of itself the characteristic quid of Flemish art, was – if possible – even more acute: an extraordinary anthology of minutiae capable of lingering on as yet unsuspected details. Simon was born in the mid- 1420s in Amiens, in Picardy, and like many of his day there was nothing casual in his choice to follow the path of art. His father Jean, the first testimony of whom is dated 1426, was a painter and sculptor who was active until the early 1440s. His brother Mille was also a painter. But it was the impressive artis- tic status of Simon that stood out above all the others. Simon was active in Amiens from as early as the 1450s and, in 1454, he was paid for a Calvary with the figure of a St John for the main hall in the city’s municipal building. In 1457 Marmion moved to Valenciennes, where in 1464–1465 he married Jeanne de Quaroube, daughter of one of the town’s wealthiest families. In 1468 he registered as a master of his trade in Tournai, perhaps to open up another market within highly rigid corporative norms that governed business. Marmion, who sometimes also used the grisaille (eg. in the Rolin Book of Hours, Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional, Ms. Res. 149), also deserves credit for having intro- duced – in manuscripts such as La Flora (Naples, Biblioteca Nazionale, Ms. I. B. 51), which he himself began and was com- pleted by other masters years later – the so-called ‘close-up’, a close range view of half-length figures that could dramatize the gospel scene portrayed. Simon was one of the greatest colourists of his time, skilled at modulating shadows and grey/violet tones, at shading blue skies that grew lighter at the horizon, and at creating translucent effects in robes and veils.

 

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Illuminators

THE SAVOY’S GARDEN

Francesco Peyrolery’s “miniatures on paper”

Franca Porticelli

Though information about the Botanical Gardens of the University of Turin is only available from 1729 on, it was actually founded by Victor Amadeus II of Savoy as part and parcel of the University’s overall renovation and opened in 1722. An outstanding school of botanical painting began and developed there, and would eventually give life to the 64-volume work known as the Iconographia Taurinensis: a collection of illustrative plates depicting plants, flowers and fruit, all of which are hand-drawn and painted with watercolours using a method known as “miniature on paper”. One of the most important crafters of this work, which was begun in 1752 and completed in 1768, was Francesco Peyrolery (Viù, ca. 1710–1783), who by that time had already been hired as the garden’s painter, a job he would develop under the guidance of the botanists Vitaliano Donati and Carlo Allioni. Peyrolery had initially found work as an assistant herbalist at the Botanical Gardens of the University of Turin in 1732. In addition to learning how to recognize the plants, he demonstrated exceptional skill in naturalistic representation. His undisputed ability as a painter and his knowledge of the vegetable species quickly led him to become the botanical specialist and later on the official botanical painter of the university garden. The single plates he illustrated in the course of his routine work were later assembled in a volume, giving body and soul to a decade of serious and meticulous work. The manuscript Stirpium Icones, now conserved in the Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria di Torino (O.II.294), contains a collection of 144 watercolour illustrations on paper, 143 of which are the work of Francesco Peyrolery. The last one instead, which is on parchment and is framed by a gold border, portrays the Nicotiana foliis cardioformibus flore patulo and bears the signature of Françoise Madeleine Basseporte (a French botanical painter who was hired as the painter of the Jardin du Roi in 1743 to replace his master Claude Aubriet). The presence of this illustration in the volume is tangible proof of friendly relationships that were maintained between the botanical gardens in Turin and in Paris.

 

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illustrated manuscripts

TWO TOWERS, ONE FAITH

A Bolognese Dominican Bible

Fabrizio Lollini

This splendid twelfth-century Bible has been known to the history of illuminated manuscripts for quite some time. Before being acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles where, shelf marked ms. 107, it landed happily in one of the richest collections of illustrated manuscripts outside Europe, it had already been in two quite important private English collections, that of Dyson Perrins and that of the Abbey. The sale held at Christie’s London on 7 July 2010 (The Arcana Collection. I), the catalogue from the sale and the manuscript’s purchase by the American museum has made it possible to follow up – with more direct and more accurate analyses – on the many historical citations found in the catalogues that had accompanied the manuscripts various transactions and those that had been listed in J.J.G. Alexander’s census of the manuscripts in Abbey collection. The sumptuous manuscript contains the unabridged version of St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate Bible, with all the prologues. Every section of text is introduced by illuminated work that – in each book and in the first prologue – has been made with extraordinary figurative initials, portraits or narrative scenes. The manuscript, which is of obvious and somewhat problematic Dominican origin, immediately reveals the taller characters of the so-called Bolognese ‘first style’. All the same, the calendar and the rest of the text do not show significant enough variants to actually to determine where the manuscript was made or who it was made for (I do not find the clue pointing to Ascoli Piceno conclusive.) The table for calculating Easter, which covers a span of time ranging from 1262 to 1305, was also often used for an early dating that coincided with the first of the two dates. But this accompanying element was often copied from other analogous examples without changing the contents and thus, from my point of view (though Alessandro Conti was of a different idea), is not a sufficient indication to orient a chronological ad annum point of view. We do not know exactly when but probably sometime between the end of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the Bible found its way to England, where it was most certainly to be found around 1880 when the binding was replaced.

 

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Illuminators

A FLEMING IN ROME

Frans van de Casteele a.k.a Francesco da Castello

Elena De Laurentiis

By the time of Pope Gregory XIII (1572–1585) the Eternal City had already become the favourite destination for many artists from all over Italy and Europe. They came to Rome to study ancient works of art and those of the modern masters, and to look for new, income-producing job opportunities offered by the papacy and wealthy private clients. Among those who had settled more or less permanently in the city’s flourishing ‘Flemish’ colony (the term ‘Flemish’ was used by contemporaries to identify the Belgians, the Dutch and the Germans) was the son of Charles V of Habsburg’s tailor, Frans van de Casteele, a painter and illuminator from Brussels who had come to Rome to seek his fortune. Francesco da Castello, as Frans van de Casteele or Kasteele (Brussels, circa 1541 – Rome, 1621) was known in Italian, painted and signed a few large altarpieces in Rome, practically all of which are dated to the last decade of the sixteenth century and some of which are still conserved today. His main occupation, however, was that of an illuminator, even if – despite relevant art historiographical references and archival documentation – practically all track of this part of his oeuvre was lost until the last century. The particular nature of his production – small paintings of religious subjects for private devotion, made in tempera on parchment or oil on copper, was partially responsible for this. Moreover, these devotional images were conserved in largely inaccessible places – the sanctuaries of cloistered convents or the private oratories of aristocratic dwellings – or in some cases actually worn around the neck of the faithful. With so little exposure to the public, all memory of them was quickly forgotten. Yet Francesco da Castello had a brilliant career in Rome. Hendrick Goltzius painted his portrait, and he had relationships with many important people and Flemish scholars, including Philips van Winghe, Abraham Ortelius and Hendrick De Raeff of Delft, who was known as Enrico Corvino and who, in 1603, married his daugher Caterina. Castello was associated with the Pontifical Academy of Fine Arts and Letters of the Virtuosi al Pantheon, and a member, from 1577 on, of the Accademia di San Luca, of which he and the Florentine illuminator Giacomo Squilli served as consul in 1588, and he himself in 1591. He is also documented to have filled the role of associate ‘principe’ (director) on 14 November 1593, as one of the participants of the first assembly celebrated by the first ‘principe’ Federico Zuccari with the symbolic ‘foundation’ of the Accademia, of which Federico Borromeo was the first patron cardinal and Castello was elected ‘principe’ in 1600.

 

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Conference Lisbon 18-20 April 2013

The International Colloquium “Medieval Europe in motion” is directly linked to the current postdoctoral research projects of Dr. Maria Alessandra Bilotta on «Portuguese juridical manuscripts production and illumination between 14th and 15th centuries and theirs connections with manuscripts production and illumination in the French “Midi” (specially Toulouse, Avignon and Montpellier) and in the North-Mediterranean regions (Italy and Cataluña)» and by Alicia Miguélez on «The gesture language in the Lorvão Apocalypse and its rapports with other beatus manuscripts».

The main objective of this initiative is to analyze the influence of circulation, motion and mobility of people, forms and ideas on the artistic creation during the Middle Ages. This is not a completely new topic in the field of Medieval Art Studies as several scientific events have already been organized in the past years on this topic. This Colloquium aims thus to conduct a critical and constructive revision of these matters, proposing new questions to be discussed.

 

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Antiques

UNDAUNTED SHEETS

The Book of Hours of John Fearless

Sara Pierobon

The Master of the Breviary of John the Fearless who was certainly active between 1405 and 1420  and was formerly identified as one of the Limbourg brothers, is – according to Millard Meiss – “in certain respects the most mysterious master of the first two decades of the fifteenth century” and the present manuscript is “his most remarkable work”, apart from his eponymous masterpiece, a Breviary illuminated for John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, now in the British Library. The present manuscript was probably executed after  c.1411, when the artist contributed to the Très Riches Heures of the Duc de Berry, and before the Breviary of John the Fearless (before 1420). Thirteen miniatures in the present manuscript are by the Master, and a few more were left incomplete, perhaps because he died of the same plague that killed the Limbourgs in 1416. The painter’s style and technique are especially remarkable for two distinctive features, respectively his almost-pointilliste use of tiny stippled brush-strokes and the extremely fine tooling of highly burnished gold features such as haloes, both exemplified in the miniatures reproduced here. Although many of the miniatures in the present manuscript are closely comparable to the equivalent scenes in works by the Limbourgs, especially the Duc de Berry’s Très Belles Heures now in Brussels, he is no slavish copyist and introduces many highly original features: a good example is the extraordinary figure in The Flagellation who presses one foot against Christ’s back while simultaneously pulling his head backwards and scourging him. Unknown until it emerged from obscurity in New England in 1999, the manuscript has been exhibited in all subsequent major exhibitions concerning French art of the early 15th century. No other Book of Hours by the master has more than four miniatures; this one has thirteen, plus two others brought to completion by Antoine de Lonhy, the court painter of the Dukes of Savoy.

 

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Books

SCENTS OF THE SEA

AN ESSAY ON THE ART OF THE MINIATURE IN DALMATIA

Lia Cesareo

While the European Union still struggles for a prospect of consensus and shared governance, it is in the realm of culture, rather than the conflicting up-and-downs of a single currency not well- borne by various countries, that the patient excavation of scholars has led to possible points of reflection on a communality (or rather, a mixed plurality) of roots, exchanges and influences giving us an ever greater measure of a centuries-long historical process that is far from closed in the narrow confines of today’s national realities. In this respect, book manuscripts, illustrated codices are one of the places where the evidence of this assumption is most at hand. A good example of a real cultural bridge between the Adriatic’s shores is the courageous, impressive work that has been done to catalogue the codices in Beneventan script conserved in Dalmatia. The tenacious, serious and passionate research of Emanuela Elba (Miniatura in Dalmazia. I codici in beneventana, XI-XIII secolo, Congedo Editore, Taranto 2011, 448 pp., 32 colour ill., 146 b/w plates, € 50.00), a young scholar who has spent years studying how the models ferried from southern Italy to present-day Croatia were transmitted, received and assimilated, has not only managed to rewrite the chapter on medieval illumination in Croatia from start to finish, but also to claim its status as a border art bearing an authentic, original trans-Adriatic identity.

 

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