A picture book of singular artistic ambition, the highly personalized Livre d’images de Madame Marie is a striking witness to the authority of images in Gothic devotional manuscripts. With its textual content reduced to a calendar and series of tituli, this prayerbook holds visual and spiritual attention with a series of eighty-seven full-page illuminations of scenes from the lives of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and saints. The heavily pigmented pages are enriched with gold frames, haloes, and narrative details. Most remarkable, and virtually unique, is the inclusion of the female patron—identified, in tituli, only as Madame Marie—kneeling at the feet of sacred figures in ten scenes. Painted over by a later hand in all but one of the miniatures, Madame Marie’s ghostly presence is an impactful reminder of the importance of women as patrons, owners, and users of Gothic illuminated books.
Originally comprised of ninety images, the picture book presently holds thirty-three scenes from the Life of Christ, four scenes from the Life of the Virgin, and fifty scenes of saints of whom eleven are female. The manuscript includes, at the start, a Cistercian calendar in Latin and a list of tituli in Old French, and each illuminated scene includes a titulus as a caption. It was likely produced in the Brabant or in Hainaut, but the precise scriptorium has not been identified.
A New Gothic Monumentality
The eighty-seven full-page miniatures in the Livre d’images de Madame Marie form a visually cohesive program. Each scene is made up of holy figures on simply colored grounds set within a frame of Gothic tracery. The illuminations are impactful and theatrical: the saints’ bodies push at and overlap their framing device as they gesture dramatically.
An exceptionally delicate application of pigment and a shallow pictorial space lend an impressive sculptural plasticity to the compositions. Madame Marie, the aristocratic patron, still kneels before St. James in his miniature; in nine other scenes, her silhouette is legible as an irregularity in the repainted grounds.
Created at a time of artistic innovation, the illuminations in the prayerbook of Madame Marie stand as a remarkable achievement of Gothic painting.
Front Matter of a Picture Book
The text that opens the Livre d’images de Madame Marie is written in a semi-formal Gothic bookhand, with infrequently applied feet of minims, forked ascenders, and pronounced hairline tails.
The pages are elaborated with gold, red, and blue initials decorated with hairline flourishes. Each month of the calendar begins with a large burnished gold initial on blue ground, and the list of tituli is enriched with line fillers.
A Family Heirloom
The patronage and early history of this book remain unknown, but its provenance is traced from a series of ex libris. In the seventeenth century, it was held by Margaret Angelique d’Oÿenbrüghe de Duras, a canoness of Muntserbilsen near Maatricht, and by Pierre Van Lierde from Arras.
In 1813 Jeanne-Pierrette Carnot, a nun in Nolay, received the manuscript from her brother Lazare Carnot; in 1828 A. Dupont Carnot gifted it to his daughter Fély Bertrand; and in 1897 it was in the possession of François Carnot, the grandson of Lazare. Between 1969 and 1971 the manuscript was acquired by the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Martiriologe des Saints: le livre d'images de Madame Marie": Martirologio Anglonormando del Siglo XIII. El libro de imágenes de Madame Marie facsimile edition, published by Club Bibliófilo Versol, 2010Request Info / Price