Arts and Crafts

Up For Auction: A Once-Lost Medieval Manuscript Witnesses History

St. Catherine of Siena, as Christ and a host of saints appears to her, and offers her a bejewelle
St. Catherine of Siena. Illuminated manuscript on parchment c.1475 Image: Bloomsbury Auctions

Sometimes you come across an item that represents more than the sum of its parts – such as this single exquisite leaf of medieval manuscript from the third quarter of the fifteenth century. Once lost, this extremely rare piece is due to be auctioned on 6th July, 2021 by Bloomsbury Auctions, London. It is certain to attract attention from those interested in the work of one of the finest illustrators from a country  renowned for its illuminated manuscripts. It also resonates with the history of those with whom it is associated.

Attributed to the Master of Margaret of York, the miniture shows St. Catherine of Siena in an illustration typical of the period and region from which the book originated. And therein lies the significance for me, for the manuscript had been commissioned by Louis de Gruuthuse (Lodewijk van Brugge) in about 1475.

Born into a wealthy family c1422 in Bruges (now Belgium), Louis became a notable patron of the arts and collector of books. His collection was second to that of the Dukes of Burgundy at whose Court he served. It is this connection that, for me, makes Louis de Gruuthuse a person of interest, for he played an important role in the political and personal lives of the members of the House of York.

Louis de Gruuthuse (Lodewijk van Brugge) 1427 – 24 November 1492 Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1468, Louis helped oversee the marriage celebrations of Charles de Charolais, son of Philip, Duke of Burgundy (the Good) to Margaret of York, sister of Edward IV and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III. The significance of such an alliance between the two countries went beyond cementing a political connection that was instrumental to Edward’s continued survival, but also helped establish commercial links and cultural exchanges that influenced the English Court in following years.

The connection proved beneficial when, in 1479, Edward IV found himself in exile after the rebellion of Richard, Earl of Warwick who, in the Readeption, restored Henry VI to the English throne. Louis de Gruuthaus ensured safe passage for the beleaguered Edward and it was as his host during the winter of 1472 that Louis reaffirmed his partiality for the House of York, for which Edward subsequently rewarded him with the earldom of Winchester.

As a councillor to both Duke Philip and his son, Charles (who succeeded his father as Duke of Burgundy in 1467), Gruuthaus found himself in a position of influence. This continued after the death of Charles at the Battle of Nancy in 1477, serving the Duke’s heiress, Mary of Burgundy and her step-mother, Margaret of York.

Margaret of York - Wikipedia
Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy

Now widowed, Margaret continued to influence Anglo-Burgundian relationships, something she had endeavoured to do throughout her husband’s rule despite his wavering commitment to his brother-in law’s campaigns.

Like Gruuthaus, Margaret also acquired  books, those associated with her numbering about twenty-nine – a significant collection for a woman at the time.(1) It is likely that Gruuthaus’s own extensive collection inspired Edward IV’s acquisition of works for his Royal library, including a copy of Josephus, commissioned by Louis.(2)

While I won’t be bidding on the 6th June, I will await the outcome of the auction with interest as this remarkable witness to history begins the next stage of its long journey .

 

 

 

(1) Kurtis A. Bartow, “Appendix: the Library of Margaret of York and Some Related books,” in Thomas Kren, ed., Margaret of York, Simon Marmion and the Visions of Tondal (Malibu, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum, 1992), 257–262. For the complete list of books associated with the duchess.

(2) T Kren & S McKendrick (eds), Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe, p.224, Getty Museum/Royal Academy of Arts.

 

 

Details of the manuscript and its provenance (below) have been taken from the Bloomsbury Auction website.

‘St. Catherine of Siena, as Christ and a host of saints appears to her, and offers her a bejewelled wedding ring, miniature on a leaf from a copy of the French translation of the Legenda Maior of Raymond of Capua, this leaf from a illuminated manuscript on parchment made for the grand Burgundian patron, Louis de Gruuthuse [French Flanders (doubtless Bruges), c. 1475]

Single leaf, with half page gold framed miniature attributed to the Master of Margaret of York or his workshop (see below), above a single pale pink initial containing coloured foliage, and 6 lines of elegant Burgundian lettre bâtarde by a professional scribe as yet unidentified but close to that of Colard Mansion, all within gold text frame and full border of acanthus leaves and other foliage, reverse with single word from previous chapter (‘personnes’: see below) at head, followed by line-filler in gold, blue and pink, above 5 lines of rubric opening with large and fine calligraphic initial (with human face poking out it’s tongue picked out in brown ink at its edge), some flaking and scuffing to gold, brown stains to upper margin, else fine condition, 276 by 197mm.

This leaf has a sublime provenance from Louis de Gruuthuse, the greatest art patron of the Burgundian Netherlands aside from the ducal family, to two kings of France, including François I, the father of the French Renaissance

Provenance:

1. This is a long-lost leaf from BnF MS. fr. 1048 (olim Regius 7336; on the manuscript see I. Hans-Collas & P. Schandel, Manuscrits enluminés des anciens Pays-Bas méridionaux. I. Manuscrits de Louis de Bruges, Paris, 2009, no. 36, pp. 144-45), a copy of the anonymous Légende de la Vie de Sainte Catherine de Sienne, made for Louis de Gruuthuse (1422-92; also known as Louis de Bruges), courtier to Philip the Good and the wealthiest and most important art patron in the Burgundian Low Countries outside the reigning ducal family. The loss of leaves from the parent volume removed the frontispiece with his armorial devices, but an offset of them can be seen on fol. 4v there. The present leaf contains the last word of book I, ch. 7, and the opening of book II, ch. 1, and once sat before fol. 35 in the parent manuscript (see the gallica.bnf.fr website for a black-and-white facsimile).

2. Louis XII (1462-1515, king of France from 1498), who was given the entire Gruuthuse library c. 1500, most probably by Jean V de Gruuthuse, the son and heir of Louis de Gruuthuse, as well as Louis XII’s chamberlain.

3. François I (1494-1547, king of France from 1515), the father of the Renaissance in France and one of that nation’s most important bibliophiles. He had the Gruuthuse arms overpainted in many of the volumes from that library and moved them along with the rest of the royal library into the treasury of the château of Blois (note the parent manuscript has the sixteenth-century note ‘Bloys’ at the head of its first original flyleaf above a description of its contents, doubtless from this move). There the royal chaplain, Guillaume Petit, recorded them in an inventory of 1518, and again in 1544, with the present leaf part of no. 1510, described as ‘Ung autre livre, en parchemyn, intitule: Vye de saincte Catherine de Sennes; couvert de veloux incarnat’ (see H. Omont, Anciens inventaires et catalogues de la Bibliothèque nationale, I, 1908, p. 235). These then passed to the royal library in Fontainebleau, and after the Revolution and foundation of the First Republic in 1792 to the Bibliothèque nationale. Depredations were made early into the Gruuthuse sections of the royal library, and in fact only 155 volumes of the 180 extant from this library now remain in the Bibliothèque nationale. All bar one of the leaves with miniatures were abstracted from the volume in question here before 1831, when the first comprehensive inventories of the Bibliothèque nationale were made (where the parent manuscript is no. 1683: see Omont, Anciens inventaires, p. 344). Where such miniatures were on a recto, a French hand of the eighteenth century added the preceding rubric in the parent volume (this is the case with the leaf in Dartmouth College and the leaf now in a European private collection), indicating that these leaves were removed while the collection was in Blois, and probably before the French Revolution.

4. Three leaves from the parent manuscript (most probably including this one) appeared for sale in a Philip C. Duschnes catalogue of May 1970, with one of these reappearing in Sotheby’s, 21 June 1994, lot 33 (but with the parent manuscript misidentified, and thus Gruuthuse provenance obscured), and another now in an important European private collection. Two further leaves with miniatures are now in Dartmouth College Library, Hanover, North Hampshire, USA (Rauner Library, 470940, gift of Madelyn C. Hickmott [1897-1988], both reproduced online).

5. The present leaf owned by a private North American collector, their sale in Cowen’s Auctions of Cincinnati, in March 2013, lot 51; acquired there by Roger Martin.

Text:

Raymond of Capua (c. 1330-99) served as spiritual director and confessor to St. Catherine of Siena, and thus his account is of paramount importance as an eye-witness record of her life. After her death, he undertook the restoration of the Dominican Order, and was named its second founder. This translation was made by an anonymous Dominican friar, sometime immediately after the canonisation of St. Catherine of Sienna in 1461. It had a short and closely focussed distribution as a text, and may well have been produced under the patronage of the Burgundian court as all five extant witnesses are associated with members of that court or their highest followers. See J.F. Hamburger & G. Signori, ‘The Making of a Saint: Catherine of Siena, Thomas Caffarini, and the Others’, in Catherine of Siena: The Creation of a Cult, 2013, pp. 8-10.

Artist and patron:

The identification of the artist as the Master of Margaret of York or a member of his workshop was made by the authors of the Manuscrits de Louis de Bruges volume published in 2009 (working from the single miniature remaining in BnF. fr. 1048 and those in Dartmouth College). The artist was active in Bruges from about 1470 to 1480, and takes his name from a book produced for Margaret of York, wife of Charles the Bold (now Bibliothèque royale de Belgique, nos. 9305-06). However, his surviving works indicate that his principal patron was Louis de Gruuthuse, with some fifteen extant works produced for Louis’ apparent personal reading (mostly French translations of Latin works, as here). See S. McKendrick & T. Kren, Illuminating the Renaissance, 2003, p. 217-18.

Items from this illustrious library, quintessentially of the late Middle Ages and made to inspire secular piety and demonstrate bourgeois opulence in equal measure, are of enormous rarity on the market. The last significant codex was that of a manuscript from Chatsworth, containing the Deeds of Sir Gillion de Trazegnies, and dated 1464, sold at Sotheby’s, 5 December 2012, to the Getty Museum, for £3,849,250. Otherwise a somewhat battered copy of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, with three miniatures, from the final remnant of the Thomas Phillipps collection, appeared at Christie’s, 7 June 2006, lot 19, and realised £45,600. Perhaps the closest comparables to that here are a series of three grisaille miniatures produced by the Burgundian artist Lievan van Lathem for a grand manuscript made for Duke Philip the Good, Louis de Gruuthuse’s …(for full text, see catalogue PDF)’

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Stripping the Past: Restoration Games

Since my last post on restoring our Arts and Crafts house, things have moved on apace. I finished removing all the modern polyurethane from the wide window seat in my study and then started eyeing up the rest of the room. There’s an inglenook fireplace from the original 1630’s house in my study. Edward Sturdy surrounded it in an oak mantle and this, too, had been given ‘the treatment’ sometime in the 1990’s. Now a dark, icky mahogany brown, the beautiful grain of the wood was lost and the surface dull. As you know, I am wary of removing any finish that might be original but, spurred on by the stripping of the window seat, I set out to do a similar job on the mantle.

 

The copper bell push had to be removed for cleaning. A lovely thing, it had been lacquered sometime in the last twenty years and needed the old coating removed before polishing,, finding a replacement button, and being put back. Behind the bell the original surface glowed a medium oak, a perfect witness to our hunch that almost the entire house had been subject to a mahogany stain on the extensive areas of woodwork.

 

Anyway, as before I used a chemical paint stripper (Paint Panther) that softened the varnish enough to be removed without damaging the wood. It took a few coats, scraping (carefully), wire wool, and wire brushes to take off a lot of mucky gunge. I then rubbed the exposed wood with white spirit, used a fine tool to clean the really-hard-to-get niggly bits, and brushed on liquid beeswax and natural turpentine (Liberon) to nourish the surface. Left to dry for upwards of twenty-four hours, this was then buffed to a subtle sheen.

 

Removing the inappropriate wood stain revealed the probable reason for it: surfaces chewed by time and woodworm. I can understand people wanting to unify the look of the wood; some would say that the use of Douglas fir and oak (and walnut, in some places) was a bit eccentric of Edward Toronto Sturdy, but then that is part of the charm of his house – it’s quirky.

 

The next project to tackle will be the tiled fireplace. At some point, the 9×9 inch red quarry tiles were painted a heavy, pillar box red. I have no idea whether I can rid them of the noxious coating, but I’m willing to give it a go.

 

 

Restoration Game: Joys & Tribulations of Renovating

I’ve been taking time out from writing my latest historical mystery suspense to engage in a little house restoration. One of the joys and tribulations of living in an old house is what might turn up expectedly during renovation.

For the last week I’ve been engrossed in getting some work done in my study – not writing this time, but stripping (although the new book is coming on apace, I’m delighted to say).  I’ve been working on the Arts and Crafts window seat which crosses the entire width of the windows and was stained such a dark colour that it sucked all the light out of the room. 

It wasn’t an easy decision. I’ve seen too many over-restored houses to let that happen to this one. Too often woodwork that was supposed to have been painted from the start is stripped back to a naked surface and limed or left parched and bare. I agonised over what to do for the best and the question I asked myself was: is this an original finish to the Douglas fir and oak bench, or a later addition? A test strip painted a pale, neutral colour looked terrible, leaving me no other option than to take the plunge and remove layers of sludgy ‘mahogany’ varnish. 

The varnish turned out to be a modern polyurethane finish. Removing the varnish allowed not only the warmth of the wood to glow through, but also the strong grain – giving texture and depth. It also revealed that two oak panels had been replaced with…vinyl laminate flooring. Delightful. It worked, I suppose, when covered with gooy varnish, but stripped back looked exactly as it was – plastic. Carefully removing the laminate revealed the badly wormed oak panels. My helpful decorator supplied some oak sheet he had tucked away in his garage and that will be my next task – to cut two panels from it to replace the placky stuff. Then I’ll stain the fresh oak to match the 1900 wood, and use a beeswax and turpentine mix to unify the colours, feed the wood and give it some protection.

Even with this much done, the room feels lighter and more inviting and closer to the original finish desired by Edward Toronto Sturdy when he first commissioned the building. I’ll post some more photos when the job’s completed.