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Entries in Illuminated Manuscripts (6)


Jean Pucelle: French + Italian + Flemish = Pucelle

Workshop of Jean Pucelle - Belleville Breviary - 1323-26 - Manuscript (Ms. lat. 10484, 2 volumes), 240 x 170 mm - Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris (click photo for larger image)Jean (Jehan) Pucelle (ca.1300-1355 and active c. 1319-1334 in Paris) was a French Gothic era manuscript illuminator—master of a celebrated workshop in Paris during the 1320s. Little is known of his career, but his large workshop dominated Parisian painting in the first half of the 14th century. He enjoyed court patronage and his work commanded high prices. Certain features of his art—particularly his mastery of space—indicate that he probably travelled in Italy early in his career. He was also familiar with Flemish developments. It was the synthesis of these two influences—allowing for an increasing penetration of naturalistic representation into traditional iconography—which formed the basis for Pucelle's individual style.

The Belleville Breviary comes from the workshop of Pucelle, and in it a great many new features appear. The page featured here reveals a wide range of decorative inventions embracing naturalistic flowers, insects, birds and animals—and grotesque little men playing musical instruments. But the whole effect is tightly controlled, associated as it is with a firm regular framework of narrow bars.

The influence of Italian painting is marked in Pucelle's work, demonstrated by his interest in pictorial space. This is possibly the most revolutionary feature of his work. The exploitation of various rudimentary forms of perspective was a completely new feature of late thirteenth-century Italian painting, and Pucelle incorporated something of these experiments into his manuscript illuminations.

Folio 24v (below) shows David and Saul enclosed within a small doll's-house-like construction, painted erratically but clearly in three dimensions. Below (on the bas-de-page) the scene of Cain murdering his brother is depicted.


Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and the Gothic Tradition

The Biadaiolo Master (Italian miniaturist) - Libro del Biadaiolo - 1328-30 - Illumination on parchment, 385 x 270 mm - (15.2 x 10.6 in) - Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana, Florence (click photo for larger image)Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Bern with Belltower, 1935, oil on canvas, 70.5 x 80.65 cm (27.75 x 31.75 in) Minneapolis Institute of Arts (click photo for larger image)The so-called Biadaiolo codex was composed by Domenico Lenzi, a grain merchant. He annotated on it the prices of cereals for the Florentine marketplace located at Orsanmichele, together with bits of news, verses, and reflections of various sorts. The precious miniatures which decorate the codex are attributed to an anonymous artist, known as the Biadaiolo Master. On this sheet featured here, views of the city of Florence may be identified.

The charming setting as subject matter is rare in the work of German Expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1867-1956). His tendency was to deal with darker, more somber subjects. In 1917, Kirchner left Germany for Switzerland where he settled in an alpine house at Davos. He became a new influence in the Swiss art world which had been relatively untouched by Expressionism. At an age when most artists begin to settle and mellow, Kirchner found new vigor in the idolatry of Swiss students. The peaceful beauty and vast expanse of the high Alps, as well as the political stability of Switzerland, must also have contributed to the new brightness and precision evident in Bern (featured here). This new style, Kirchner's last period, began in 1925. Nothing of his expressive power is lost in the grandeur, gaiety and light.


Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci: An Illumination

Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci - Gradual 1 for San Michele a Murano (Folio 38v) - c. 1395 - Tempera and gold on parchment, 570 x 380 mm - The Morgan Library and Museum, New York (click photo for larger image)According to Vasari, in the Camaldolese monastery of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Florence there were twenty choir books written by a certain Don Jacopo and illustrated by Don Silvestro dei Gherarducci (1339-1399). He also points out that several other choir books by the same masters were in the library in the monastery of San Michele of the same order in Murano. Single illuminated pages representing a number of scenes from a large gradual by Don Silvestro have survived in various museums. Together with several other stylistically consistent historiated pages and with a considerable number of cut initials scattered in various museums, they formed the major portion of the illuminated decoration of two large graduals for San Michele a Murano. Fifty-one full pages and initials have been discovered so far that can now be firmly associated with the two San Michele a Murano graduals, Gradual 1 (The First Sunday of Advent to Passion Week) and Gradual 2 (Easter to the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost).

The scene within the initial P represents the Nativity and the Annunciation to the Shepherds. The Virgin Mary, here represented as a Madonna of Humility sitting on a vivaciously patterned cushion, gazes toward her spouse, who with deepest devotion kisses his son's little feet. The actual Annunciation to the Shepherds is not narrated within the initial but extends to the border decoration in the lower left margin, which consists of stylized flowers and leaves.

The leaf contains the introit (a psalm or antiphon sung or said while the priest approaches the altar for the Eucharist) to the Mass for Christmas Day.



Jean Le Noir (with contributions by his daughter, Bourgot) - Psalter of Bonne of Luxembourg - c. 1348 - Manuscript (Inv. 69.86), 126 x 88 mm - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (click photo for larger image)French illuminator Jean Le Noir (active 1331-1375 in Paris) is an important figure in the history of French manuscript illumination. He is first mentioned in 1331, in the service of Yoland of Flanders, Duchess of Bar. Later he left her employ to work for King John II of France (reigned 1350-64). In 1358, during John's imprisonment in London, he and his daughter, Bourgot, who is also mentioned as an illuminator ('enlumineresse'), were given a house in Paris by the regent Charles, in recognition of services rendered to the King. In 1372 Jean Le Noir received gifts from Jean, Duc de Berry, and is referred to as 'illuminator to the King and to the Duc’. The piece featured here is widely regarded as his main work. This psalter was copied and illuminated for the private devotions of Bonne of Luxembourg (1315-1349), daughter of the Bohemian king, the wife of Duke John of Normandy, subsequently King John II of France (John the Good, reigned 1350-1364). The book contains 150 psalms and a calendar. The miniatures were produced by Jean Le Noir with the probable contribution of his daughter, Bourgot. “The miniatures are characterised by sensitive, noble lines, and their silhouettes and internal modeling are marked by graphic refinement and delicacy. The miniature on folio 83v illustrates Psalm 53, "The Fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." The figure of the fool, an ugly fat man with a Semitic profile has been exploited for anti-Jewish propaganda.”


Illuminations in Art

(click photo for larger image)An illuminated manuscript is one in which the text is supplemented by the addition of decoration, such as decorated initials (called historiated caps), borders (marginalia) and miniature illustrations. In the strictest definition of the term, an illuminated manuscript only refers to manuscripts decorated with gold or silver. But in both common usage and modern scholarship, the term is now used to refer to any decorated or illustrated manuscript from the Western tradition. The majority of surviving manuscripts are from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, along with a very limited number from Late Antiquity. The majority of these manuscripts are of a religious nature. However, especially from the 13th century onward, an increasing nuber of secular texts were illuminated. Most illuminated manuscripts were created as codices (book made up of a number of sheets of paper, vellum, or similar material, usually stacked and bound by fixing one edge and with covers thicker than the sheets. Some codices are continuous and folded). A very few illuminated manuscript fragments survive on papyrus, which does not last nearly as long as vellum or parchment. Most medieval manuscripts, illuminated or not, were written on parchment (most commonly of calf, sheep, or goat skin). Most manuscripts important enough to illuminate were written on the best quality of parchment, called vellum. Some of the secular mss can get rather stranage!