The Prayer Book of Claude de France, written and illuminated around 1517, is one of the most famous manuscripts ever made for the French court. With its small format of 69x49 mm and the countless number of illustrations it contains this manuscript was made for Claude de France, Queen of France.
An Endless Gallery of Images
The manuscript manages to accommodate 132 illustrations from the life of Christ in only 104 pages. Ranging from full-page miniatures to even double-page images, the iconographic apparatus plays a significant role in this codex as we can see from the little space dedicated to the text. The variety of images is certainly superb and so is the attention to detail, ranging from the representation of a coat flattering in the wind to an emphatic gesture to wide landscapes.
As the name of the manuscript suggests, the owner of this masterpiece was Claude de France, daughter of Anne of Brittany and Louis XII, and who grew up surrounded by a certain wealth. In 1514, when she was only 14 she married François d’Angoulême, who would become king Francis I.
Her figure was described by contemporaries as delicate, generous and sweet-tempered, however, all her life she had to live with the burden of giving France an heir to the throne so she bore 8 children in a period of 10 years, which led to her death from exhaustion in 1524.
The Personal Character of the Prayer Book of Claude de France
When at the age of 17 she is crowned Queen of France, she seizes the opportunity to ask her favourite artist to create a prayer book so small that she could carry around all the time. The personal features of the manuscript are visible not only because her coat of arms appears three times throughout it but especially because of the allusions to domestic happiness and in the use of Franciscan cord, an item which connected Claude to her mother Anne of Brittany and which both were very fond of.
Claude and Francis: Amateurs of the Arts
Claude was not the only patron of arts in the couple, indeed, her husband, Francis I of France, was an amateur and sent his agents to Italy to buy for him works by Michelangelo, Titian, and Raffaello. Furthermore, he instructed the building of Château de Chambord on the Loire and had the Castle of Amboise renovated. The ruler even invited the remarkable artist Leonardo da Vinci to spend his retirement there.
Francis I was very fond of da Vinci, who appears to have been a great source of inspiration for the Master of Claude de France who created a miniature which echoes Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks.
An obscure life
The life of the manuscript remains obscure until World War II when the codex ended up in the hands of H.P. Kraus, a bookseller from Vienna, who sold it to a collector, Alexandre P. Rosenberg in the 1970s.
Twenty-one years after his death, his widow Elaine decided to donate this outstanding masterpiece to the Pierpont Morgan Library.
The ex-libris by Pablo Picasso
The codex also bears an ex-libris by the world renown painter Pablo Picasso. It was made especially for Picasso’s gallery owner in New York.
Red velvet binding is fastened with two gilded clasps that carry the fleur-de-lis emblem of the French kings.