A remarkable survival of manuscript art from early Capetian France, the Sacramentary of Beauvais is an important example of the early French Romanesque style distinguished for its inventive figural compositions, complex interlace, and lavish use of gold and silver paint. This fragment of a once-extensive deluxe liturgical book is enhanced with gold and purple, and features one full-page illumination, two large incipits, and three interlace initials. Likely commissioned for his own use by Roger, bishop of Beauvais from 998 to 1016, this manuscript is a splendid testament of the count-bishop’s political ambition.
In its original form, the Sacramentary of Beauvais held prayers recited by the officiating priest at Mass taken from a fusion of the Gregorian and Frankish Gelasian traditions, and included formularies for feasts of two local Beauvais saints and three more saints especially venerated in northern France. Reduced to ten leaves by a book dealer, the surviving fragment surely contains the most attractive, and only illuminated, pages of the original manuscript.
A Lively Early Romanesque
The manuscript’s illumination comprises a full-page Crucifixion at the opening of the Te igitur, an incipit page for the Easter prayers, a decorated monogram introducing the common preface, and three 5-line initials followed by gold rubrics on purple ground.
The treatment of figures is especially engaging: the gestures and physiognomies of the flanking figures of Mary and John are infused with mournful pathos, and the manikins who clamber up the gold vines of the complex interlace that comprises the uncial D in the incipit page are lively and dynamic.
The iconography of the Crucifixion is of a Lombard style while the minor initials are generally comparable to those from Ottonian Germany and northern Italy. The granular gold used in the painted decorations is the same as that used in writing the text.
The Mystery of the Italian Scribe
The main text, written by a single scribe, is executed almost entirely in Caroline miniscule in brown ink, with various rubrics, single-color initials and monograms, and occasional textual divisions in granular gold. Three display pages feature a combination of uncial letterforms and rustic capitals in granular gold on purple ground, while rubrics in red are in uncial letterform and two gold rubrics are in rustic capitals. A second scribe systematically corrected the first scribe’s work and sometime later a third scribe made three additions, both working in Caroline minuscule.
The main scribe was prolific: he wrote a gospel lectionary also known as the Gaignières Gospels (Paris, BnF, MS lat. 1126) and a small prayer book (London, BL, MS Egerton 3763) made for the private use of Archbishop Arnulph II of Milan (988–1018), and his writing is similar to that found in the Sacramentary of San Satiro (Milan, Biblioteca e Archivio del Capitolo Metropolitano, MS II.D.3.2).
He appears to have been an itinerant secular cleric or layman trained in Milan who specialized in luxury liturgical books. While both the writing and illumination of the manuscript have traditionally been associated with a single scribe-artist working at Fleury, the question remains open.
From Prayerbook to Fragment
The Sacramentary of Beauvais may have been commissioned by Roger, bishop of Beauvais from 998 to 1016, for his cathedral church. When it was first described around 1685 by a canon of the cathedral church of Saint Peter at Beauvais, the sacramentary was still complete.
Following the dispersal of the cathedral’s library during the French Revolution the manuscript was reduced to ten leaves and was subsequently acquired by the Rev. Walter Sneyd between 1838 and 1951. After Sney’d death it was sold to Charles Fairfax Murray in 1903 and then to Charles Williams Dyson Perrins in 1906.
Following the dispersal of the Perrins collection in 1960, the Sacramentary of Beauvais was sold by Hans P. Kraus to Peter and Irene Ludwig and, as part of the Ludwig collection of illuminated manuscripts, joined the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1983.
We have 2 facsimiles of the manuscript "Sacramentary of Beauvais":
- Das Sakramentar von Beauvais (Real Gold Edition) facsimile edition published by Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA), 2010
- Das Sakramentar von Beauvais (Normal Edition) facsimile edition published by Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA), 2010