The Chronicle of the Crusades is a superb example of Northern Renaissance illumination from the area between France and the Netherlands. Also known as Chroniques de Iherusalem abrégéés, it was written and illuminated around the second half of the 15th century. With its 11 large miniatures, 47 smaller miniatures, 98 medallions and initials, this codex is allegedly attributed to the Girart Master and it represents a masterpiece of Netherlandish book illustration.
The telling of the First Crusade
The content of the manuscript is historical and tells the story of the First Crusade and the conquest of Jerusalem. Unfolding the history of the Kingdom of Jerusalem until its downfall, the chronicle recounts the history of the three crusader states, namely the kingdom of Jerusalem, the principality of Antioch, and the county of Edessa.
The structure of the text is peculiar as it represents a complex parallel narrative recounted in four adjacent columns, the left one for the story of the county of Edessa, the two middle ones for the main events and the genealogy of the kings of Jerusalem, and the right for the principality of Antioch.
Netherlandish Book Painting at Its Best
A great part of information is told by the iconographic apparatus of the manuscript through the pictures captions and inscriptions in medallions. The artist indulged with the decorative motifs which feature continuous band of color, ornamented with details of gold and silver. The borders are characterized by elongated vine-stems featuring stylized foliage intermixed with gleaming gold-leaf ornamentation, flowers, and fruit of colors blue, red, and green.
The miniatures can be divided into two groups, the first group includes the large-figure depictions presented frontally, examples are ruler portraits, ceremonies, and the central scenes of the Crusade; the second group features the small-figure scenes, which include masterly made panoramas, and superbly rendered facial features.
Mastering of Detailed Landscapes and Perspective
The landscapes offer magnificent detailed features, an example is fol. 3r. where a broad, horizontal-format miniature extends over four columns of text, depicting the embarkation of the crusaders in 1096. The artist illustrates a lively scene taking place in a bay flanked by towering cliffs on one side and by flat land on the other.
In the foreground a ship lies at anchor, in the meanwhile two commanders are conversing, while two other figures, which include the crusader Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke of Lower Lorraine (ca. 1060-1100), are already on board. In the background more ships are pictured arriving full of troops with the outline of a city far in the distance.
This miniature is an example of the sophisticated use of the atmospheric perspective by the artist, who is thought to be Girart Master, although other names have been suggested, such as Jean Dreux and Philippe Mazerolles. Unfortunately, one may only speculate. The scribe of the work has been associated with the workshop of David Aubert.
Superb Example of Gothic Cursiva Formata
The script of the Chronicle of the Crusades is superb example of French Gothic Cursiva Formata. The shaft of d is lengthened and convex; the text features the Rucken -g or g with a back, with two vertical strokes making the upper lobe cross the upper horizontal stroke.
Life of the Manuscript
The commissioner is still unknown, however, the patron of the work was Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, attested also by the fact that the Chronicle of the Crusades was included in the inventory of the Burgundian court in 1467 and 1487. It was later owned by Emperor Charles V. It was again mentioned in an inventory of the estate of Emperor Matthias.