The Missale Remense is one of the most exquisite examples of Gothic illumination from northeast France. The codex was written and illuminated in three different periods of time and it features 24 medallions, 20 beautifully illuminated full-page miniatures and 32 historiated initials. It is justly considered one of the most valuable manuscripts of the collection of the National Library of Russia due to its extraordinary illustrations and its immense artistic value.
Written in Latin, this missal contains the texts necessary for the performance of the mass. Taking its name after its place of production in Reims, it can be divided into three parts: fol. 117-123 dated back to the beginning of the 14th century, fol. 251-299 dated to 1297, and fol. 300-336 dated to 1317.
Lavish Use of Illustrations and Variety of Initials
The historiated initials are usually painted on gold leaf, depicting sinuous elongated branches that culminate in flowers and fruits. The artist favors vivid colors such as blue and burgundy for the initials and, in general, he applies blazing red and orange granting a festive aspect to the illustrations. They are evenly spread throughout the text representing scenes from the Old and New Testament (ex. fol.42v.) and, at times, the life of the saints (ex.49v.).
Iconographically speaking, the Missale Remense represents the unity of the religious thought and the artistic miniatures, which express the foundations of Christian religion and the artist's personal interpretation.
The miniatures are placed so that when opening the book they face each other, however, they were divided into three different groups and rearranged at the beginning of the 19th century, so the original state probably varied from the current one.
Jean de Joinville’s Influence on the Missale Remense
The Credo miniature is worth noticing for it was inspired by Jean de Joinville, who took part to the Seventh Crusade, in which 100 french soldiers were captured, and among them king Louis IX. In captivity, Jean de Joinville wrote a treaty explaining the reasons behind his belief in God.
Despite the elevated artistic value of the theological deliberation on the Credo prayer, Jean de Joinville's manuscript (roughly dated to 1287) is iconographically inferior to the Missale Remense. It did function, however, as a model from which the superbly painted miniatures of the Missal were created.
The miniaturist of the Missale Remense faithfully followed Joinsville’s manuscript and evidence of this is the miniature depicting the Saracens visiting the French in captivity and the use in the scene of a French inscription (fol. 63v.). In general, the miniatures show grid patterns or gold leaf grounds, and they are depicted within gilded frames, that often contain a sequence of miniatures.
The script of the Missale Remense is a superb example of Gothic script, namely littera gothica textualis formata, typical of liturgical books of the 13th century. The script features tall, narrow letters formed by sharp and angular lines.
Three hands can be identified in the text, and additionally the presence of a corrector can be stated as evidenced by the annotations in the margins (ex. Fol. 40, 112v., 181 etc.). Rather than actual annotation they are parts missing from the text that the scribe while copying had mistakenly missed.