An unusual book, the Flemish Chronicle of Philip the Fair records the direct descent of its namesake through the dukes of Burgundy. The Master of the Trivial Heads illuminated the manuscript around 1485 in Bruges. Only fifteen folios, most pages feature large, detailed illuminations of historical dukes with the descriptive text in French beneath. The exception among the images is the frontispiece acting as an author portrait of a prophet-like man in a church setting with shelves of books in the background. Although the figure’s identity is unknown, the image conveys that history and the Church combined lend their authority to the text that follows.
Created for a young Philip the Fair (d. 1506) perhaps by his tutor, Olivier de la Marche, the book begins with Stephen of Burgundy, a legendary king of Burgundy, and ends with Philip’s father, Maximilian of Austria. It illuminates both the fanciful and factual history of the Duchy of Burgundy in vibrant colors and rich detail.
The Duchy of Burgundy, from Legendary Origins to European Dynasty
The slim volume serves as a family photo album for the young Philip, son of Maximilian I of Austria, Holy Roman Emperor, and Mary of Burgundy, only daughter and heir of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. The earliest entries reach back to the legendary first-century origins of the kingdom of Burgundy and follow the patrilineal descent through saints and heroes.
Each image is a whimsical delight of a multitude of figures in ornate costumes surrounded by fantastical landscapes and detailed cityscapes. Gold glitters from crowns and haloes. Below each picture is a golden panel filled with flowers and amusing vignettes of humans and animals, which surround three lines of text. This layout echoes Books of Hours and presents the family, with its great patriarchs and saints, as worthy of their heir’s devotion.
A Book Fit for a Young Duke
Philip the Fair inherited the Duchy of Burgundy through his mother, Mary, only daughter of Charles the Bold. Sadly, Mary died in 1482 after an equestrian accident leaving her son, not yet four years old, to inherit the title. This book was begun only a few years later and its simple text and enchanting pictures full of people with prominent features and gentle expressions served to educate the young boy in who he was and the importance of his position.
From the Lowlands to London
The book likely remained in the possession of the Duchy of Burgundy until the nineteenth century when it entered the library of the book collector Ambroise Fermin Didot. His book plate is affixed inside and the manuscript was listed in the 1878 catalog of his collection. That year, it was acquired by antiques firm Morgand et Fatout through which it was sold in 1898 to the collector Henry Yates Thompson. In 1941 it was bequeathed to the British Museum.
- 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, 2015Request Info / Price