The Chronicle of Philip the Fair is a highly illuminated chronicle of Burgundian history now preserved in London (British Library, Yates Thompson MS 32). Made around 1485-86 in Bruges, the book was probably intended for the education of a child, the heir to the House of Burgundy Philip the Fair (1478-1506), when he was about seven years old.
The manuscript appears as a rich collection of miniatures. The chronicle consists of fifteen folios, eleven of which display full-page illuminations featuring the story of the dukes of Burgundy. A portrait of the author of the text (fol. 1v), probably the chronicler and poet Olivier de la Marche, who was tutor of Philip the Fair, introduces the series of illustrations.
The Flemish Chronicle of Philip the Fair: Celebration of the Burgundian House
The miniatures exalt the Burgundian dynasty showing portraits of legendary kings as Stephen of Burgundy (fol. 2r), or such historical figures as Philip the Good (fol. 13r), and Charles the Bold (fol. 14r).
The illuminator painted crucial events and scenes at the Burgundian court in a book made for the young Philip the Fair who could learn the importance of his family through the vivid and colorful images of his ancestors.
A Book of Great Rarity: The Illustrated History of a Dynasty for the Education of a Child
When the Chronicle of Philip the Fair was produced, the dukes of Burgundy had memory of years of splendor, but were living a period of decline. Created in the span of a century, the Duchy of Burgundy suddenly ended with the death of Charles the Bold in 1477.
Louis XI of France attacked the cities of Flanders, which rebelled. To escape the worst, Charles’ daughter, Mary of Burgundy, married the son of the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian of Austria. They had a son, Philip, who was born in Bruges.
The Flemish Chronicle instructed the nascent ruler about Burgundian dukes, covering a long period of history that spans from 14 CE to the years after 1482.
The characters portrayed in the book include Mary Magdalene, who baptized the first Burgundian king; St. Maurice; the legendary knight, Girart de Roussillon; Bernard of Clairvaux; Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa; and Burgundian dukes.
The Flemish Chronicle of Philip the Fair is a rare manuscript because of its elaborate decoration, and especially because it is one of the very few illuminated children’s books in existence.
The Ghent-Bruges School: the Vivid Artistic Environment of Flanders
The wealthy commercial cities of Flanders attracted many renowned painters and illuminators. In the second half of the fifteenth century, highly talented painters worked in Bruges and Ghent.
They are part of the so-called Ghent-Bruges School, a school that dominated the artistic scenario and became an important center of European illuminated manuscripts.
In this creative environment, the so-called Master of the Trivial Heads, assistant of the famous Master of Edward IV, operated in a flourishing workshop in Bruges.
He is the illuminator responsible of the imaginative miniatures and borders in the lavishly illustrated Flemish Chronicle of Philip the Fair, an illuminated book for a boy who later became the head of the Burgundian dynasty.
Velvet with cornerpieces; clasps now lost.
- Detailed record for Yates Thompson 32, British Library website
- Images are courtesy of the publisher and the British Library Digital Library
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Flemish Chronicle of Philip the Fair": Die Flämische Bilderchronik Philipps des Schönen facsimile edition, published by Quaternio Verlag Luzern, 2015