Previously existing in obscurity, the Hours of Le Peley made an astonishing appearance in the art market only in 2005 and constitutes a prominent addition to the corpus of the celebrated artist Jean Colombe. The Book of Hours of Guyot II Le Peley contains the Hours (use of Tours and Rome) in Latin with the calendar written in French. Decorated with luxurious colors and abundant gold, it boasts sixteen historiated initials, three small miniatures, and fifteen full-page miniatures.
Some of the more exceptional features of this manuscript are the pictorial cycles that ornament the margins of every page of the calendar and the collection of texts which features twenty-four calendar miniatures, two hundred sixty-nine miniatures in the side borders, and two hundred eighty-three miniatures in the bas-de-page.
Magnum opus of a Great Artist
Contemporary archives document the life and flaunt the prolific output of Jean Colombe, a prominent artistic personality active in Bourges from 1463-1493. Although it appears that he lived and work in Bourges continuously, his reputation and activity went far beyond his hometown.
Colombe was appointed official illuminator to Charles I, Duke of Savoy, and completed the illustrious Très Riches Heures left unfinished by the Limbourg brothers. Colombe's most famous manuscript was undoubtedly the colossal Hours of Louis de Laval, created over the course of two campaigns between 1470 and 1489 and involving a great number of collaborators.
A number of the distinctive trends in this monumental masterpiece are repeated in the Le Peley Hours, which comprise miniatures that count among Jean Colombe's finest.
Much emphasis is placed on the images and their complicated framing, and, indeed, in some areas it appears that the text needed to compete with the expanding space claimed by the large images. Nonetheless, the batârde script is exquisite and features numerous gold initials, some of which contain heads in camaïeu d'or.
A Forgotten Masterpiece
Despite this book's connection to a renowned artist, it was all but forgotten by modern history, despite its exhibition in 1904 within the acclaimed Exposition des primitifs français.
Little is also known about its patron, from whom the book received its name and whose coat-of-arms is visible on fols. 1r and 5v. Guyot II Le Peley was from Troyes, the capital of the Champagne region, and was engaged in sea trading.
His ambition is notable in that he went beyond his native Troyes to engage the work of a Bourges illuminator renowned for his work for French nobility. It is unclear whether the book remained in the family for long.
A clue for further study is a sixteenth-century miniature on the final verso bearing the motto 'IBI AMOR UBI FIDES' on a banderole. The traces of later owners are similarly found in other parts of the manuscript.
For instance, the manuscript was in the collection of noted bibliophiles Gaetano Poggiali of Livorno, the ship-owner Henri Bordes, and Henri Gallice of Éperney.
Typical of book collecting practice, the original binding of the book was replaced and currently features a seventeenth-century French gold-tooled red morocco leather binding with a delicate dentelle border in gold.