Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS nouv. acq. fr. 16251

Madame Marie's Picture Book Facsimile Edition

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A book of singular artistic ambition, Madame Marie's Picture Book is a striking witness to the affective role of images in Gothic devotional manuscripts. The manuscript includes eighty-seven full-page miniatures of an original ninety, preceded by a calendar and a list of the subjects of the miniatures, both of which were added shortly after the completion of the original picture book. The miniatures feature gold frames, imposing figures, and engaging narrative detail. Most remarkable, and virtually unique, is the inclusion of the female patron—identified in the list of subjects as "Madame Marie"—kneeling at the feet of Saint James the Greater (fol. 66r).

The manuscript was created for "Madame Marie" in Hainaut, perhaps at Mons, around 1285-1290. The original picture book comprised scenes from the lives of Christ and the Virgin followed by a pictorial litany of saints, the latter with both narrative scenes—mostly of martyrdoms—and portraits. A few leaves have been excised, but most remain, yielding thirty-three scenes from the life of Christ, four scenes from the life of the Virgin, and fifty miniatures dedicated to saints.

Monumental Images in a Manuscript Context

The eighty-seven full-page miniatures in Madame Marie's Picture Book form a visually cohesive program. They are the work of two artists. The more accomplished painter probably worked also on a monumental scale in wall painting or stained glass and brought that experience and sensibility to the manuscript's miniatures. The lesser artist, who probably worked exclusively as an illuminator, is identified in another manuscript as Master Henri. Together, they created a painted world that served as the focus for devotion, a world filled with the imposing presence of sacred figures and compelling depictions of their lives and deaths.

The figure of Madame Marie appeared at one time in ten of the manuscript's miniatures but was later overpainted in all but one. Indeed, she originally may have appeared solely in the miniature of Saint James, only later to be added to and then painted out of the other nine. The one surviving appearance is not entirely original: the black veil suggesting that she was a nun is a later addition.

A Remarkable Presentation

The picture book presents its content in pairs of facing miniatures, often with compositional echoes across the opening. The miniatures are painted on one side only of the parchment, so that pairs of miniatures alternate with openings of blank pages. The miniatures are accompanied by captions in French that identify the main characters or the pictured event.

Early in its history, the picture book was enhanced by the addition of a calendar in Latin and a list of the subjects of the miniatures in French. The calendar, often described as Cistercian, includes the important Cistercian saint Bernard of Clairvaux but also Saints Dominic and Francis, founders of the important thirteenth-century mendicant orders of friars. All the text, including that of the picture captions, is written in Gothic Textualis. Lombard initials alternating in red and blue mark the beginnings of entries in the calendar and in the list of subjects.

The Mystery of Madame Marie

Although the list of images identifies the pictured patroness only as "me dame Marie," the final pair of pictured saints, Saints Gertrude of Nivelles and Waudru of Mons (fol. 104r), suggests an identification with Marie de Rethel (d. 1315) of Mons. Although she can be seen today only in the miniature of Saint James, the outline of where she formerly had been depicted can be seen on eight more pages, including in the miniature of Saints Francis of Assisi and Anthony of Padua (fol. 94v).

A Journey through Many Owners

The manuscript was in the collection of Margaret III, Countess of Flanders (1350-1405), at the end of the fourteenth century, and passed through the hands of the dukes of Burgundy John I (1371-1419), the Fearless, and Philip III, the Good (1396-1467). In the seventeenth century, it was owned by Marguerite Angélique d’Oyënbrügge de Duras, a canoness of Münsterbilzen near Maastricht, and then by Pierre Van Lierde from Arras.

An inscription dated 1813 states that the book at that time belonged to Jeanne-Pierrette Carnot; in 1828 A. Dupont Carnot gave it to his daughter Fély Bertrand; and in 1897 it was in the possession of François Carnot. The manuscript remained in the Carnot family until 1923, after which it passed into the hands of silk manufacturer Charles Gillet (1879-1972) of Lyon. The Bibliothèque nationale acquired the manuscript from New York bookseller H. P. Kraus in 1971.

We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Madame Marie's Picture Book": Martirologio Anglonormando del Siglo XIII. El libro de imágenes de Madame Marie facsimile edition, published by Club Bibliófilo Versol, 2010

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Manuscript book description compiled by Sasha Gorjeltchan.
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Martirologio Anglonormando del Siglo XIII. El libro de imágenes de Madame Marie

Madrid: Club Bibliófilo Versol, 2010

  • Commentary (Spanish)
  • Limited Edition: 575 copies
  • Full-size color reproduction of the entire original document, Madame Marie's Picture Book: the facsimile attempts to replicate the look-and-feel and physical features of the original document; pages are trimmed according to the original format; the binding might not be consistent with the current document binding.

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