With its 25 full-page miniatures masterfully crafted by the illuminator Jean Poyer, the Briçonnet Book of Hours stands out as a magnificent example of French book manufacture from the Northern Renaissance. Produced around 1485 in the town of Tours, an epicenter of French manuscript illumination, this codex features a unique combination of exceptionally radiant colors and richness of detail.
The Briçonnet Book of Hours takes its name from its patron Guillaume Briçonnet, Bishop of Meaux from 1516 to 1534 and counselor to King Charles VIII of France. It is particularly relevant for its intricate Bible scenes as seen from the perspective of late 15th-century Europe.
A Bright Jewel of French Illumination
The volume's painted decoration features 25 full-page miniatures. Jean Poyer decided to illustrate even secondary textual introductions with large miniatures, which is uncommon in the tradition of Books of Hours. Important parts, such as Office of the Virgin, St John Passion, Penitential Psalms, and an Office of the Dead, all begin with two full-page miniatures reproduced on a double-page.
Poyer purposefully treated his miniatures as paintings, resulting in a rich combination of intense colors — red, blue, green, purple, and gold — perspective, and expressive characters. The artist's attention to detail is stunning, especially for what concerns accessories he became acquainted with thanks to his knowledge of courtly environments.
One of the best illuminators and panel painters of his time, Jean Poyer worked for Louis XI of France, Anne of Brittany, and both her spouses Charles VIII and Louis XII of France. During his stay in Italy, Poyer was strongly influenced by early Italian Renaissance art, especially architectural features, as can be seen in the background of fol. 11v, which shows the city of Venice.
Little is known about the artists' life, apart from the fact that he was born around 1445 in Tours and was active from 1465 until 1498. The Briçonnet Book of Hours is the first manuscript attributed to Jean Poyer.
The Life of an Aristocratic Patron
Guillaume Briçonnet, born into an aristocratic Parisian family around the year 1472, was named treasurer of France by King Charles VIII. After the death of his spouse in 1491, he started his long career as a clergyman, always keeping in contact with the most wealthy and powerful men of his time. As Bishop of Meaux, he implemented a program of reform based on humanist principles. He died in 1534 in Narbonne, where an imposing tomb was built in his memory.
The red leather binding embossed in gold was crafted in the 18th century.