The Legende de Saint Voult de Lucques is one of the most exquisite examples of eclectic French book illumination from Paris. The codex, also known as La Leyenda de la Santa Faz, was written and illuminated in the early fifteenth century and features twenty-six beautifully illuminated full-page miniatures and countless gold initials. With its stylistically wide-ranging iconography, this manuscript is a superb representation of the artistic heterogeneity of its time.
The codex – telling the Leyenda de la Santa Faz – is the only example to contain the French translation of the Relatio de revelatione sive inventione ac translatione sacratissimi vultus by deacon Laboinus, which tells the story of the sculpture of the holy face, currently preserved in St Martin's Cathedral in Lucca, Italy. The translation is the work of Jean Golein, theologian at the University of Paris and personal translator of Charles V.
The Legend and the Master de la Santa Faz
The legend goes that during the Christian persecution, Nicodemus – in spiritual retreat in Ramla – started carving a sculpture, but as he reached the face, tired and afraid he would not be able to give it an appropriate and realistic rendition, he fell asleep, only to wake up and find the sculpture miraculously completed by an angel.
The artist responsible for the twenty-six miniatures in the codex takes his name after the title of the codex and is known as Master de la Santa Faz. Although influenced by the Master of the Coronation of the Virgin, he shows a different artistic sensibility. It is worth noticing that the importance of the stroke prevails on the quality of the volume and space.
The Legende de Saint Voult de Lucques also features the technique of drawing with ink which made it easier to schematize forms and figures. The narrative mode of the scenes, the taste for the details and the technical precision raises the interest for these images executed with care. This meticulousness appears on many occasions, and particularly in the way of evoking Nicodemus' workshop, which has been converted into a sculptor (fol. 1).
Leyenda de la Santa Faz: a Life between Emperors and Popes
The Legende de Saint Voult de Lucques manuscript, as its shelfmark entails (Pal. Lat. 1988), forms part of the Biblioteca Vaticana since its donation, along with other codices, by Emperor Maximilian I to Pope Gregory XV, to express his gratitude for taking part to the Thirty Years' War.
The manuscript was commissioned by the Rapondi brothers (Dino and Santiago) – both represented while kneeling at the feet of the statue (fol. IV v.) It was probably made for the Parisian chapel built for Hugo Belloni in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, near the Abbey of Saint-Magloire in Léhon, France.
A Beautiful Example of Gothic Script
The Leyenda de la Santa Faz exhibits a superb example of Gothic script, namely littera textualis. Resembling a woven textile, some main features of the this script are sharp, straight, angular lines, and bitings.