Louis + Anne Forever

Fifty-two discoveries from the BiblioPhilly project, No. 52/52

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Illuminated Initial and Partial Border with Emblems of Anne of Brittany and Louis XII, Free Library of Philadelphia, Lewis T 659, front

We began this blog series with a post on a previously unknown prophetic treatise on the year 1512, personally written by Jean Lemaire de Belges for the great patroness and Queen of France, Anne of Brittany. Suitably, we will end the series with another, perhaps less spectacular but nonetheless interesting discovery related to this superlative promoter of the arts and inveterate bibliophile. The above item, previously unclassified and among the Free Library of Philadelphia’s circa 2,300 manuscript fragments hailing from the John Frederick Lewis Collection, could be mistaken at first glance for the upper-left-hand-corner cutting from any French manuscript leaf produced around the year 1500. Looking more closely, however, we find the initials L and A, the former embellished with a crown. In the triangular interstices formed by the zig-zag border motif, we additionally find a diapered pattern of fleurs-de-lys and ermine tails. These are distinctive symbols, ones that allow us to identify the fragment in question as a remnant of a great Gradual (the book of chants, often very large, containing musical settings for the Mass) produced for the Anne of Brittany and Louis XII of France around 1498.

By great coincidence, the Free Library of Philadelphia holds a cache of items related to the famous royal couple. These include a stamped leather binding (Lewis E 65), decorated with fleurs-de-lys and ermine tails, and a Book of Hours with an inscription naming the king (Lewis E 126). More directly related to the king and queen are four calendar leaves from an impressive Book of Hours made for Louis XII shortly after his accession to the throne (Lewis E M 11:19, 11:20, 11:21, and 11:22), and a single leaf from a smaller Book of Hours with an inscription attributed by Roger S. Wieck to the queen herself (Lewis E M 11:15A).[efn_note]See Roger S. Wieck, “The Artist Jean Poyet and His Oeuvre,” in The Hours of Henry VIII: A Renaissance Masterpiece by Jean Poyet, ed. Roger S. Wieck, William M. Voelkle, and K. Michelle Hearne (New York: George Braziller, 2000), 27–29.[/efn_note]

While the reverse side of our fragment does not contain sufficient text to identify the particular feast from which it is drawn, the upper margin does contain the original folio numeration, CXIX or 119, giving us an indication of the original leaf’s location within the volume as a whole.

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Lewis T 659, reverse

The precise origins and early history of this important volume are not known, but it was said to have been broken up as early as 1840.[efn]Antoine Le Roux de Lincy, Vie de la reine Anne de Bretagne, femme des rois de France Charles VIII et Louis XII: suivie de lettres inédites et de documents originaux (Paris: Curmer, 1860–61), vol. 2, 86.[/efn_note] Among the miniatures that survive is one that is today in the Musée Dobrée, Nantes, which shows the king and queen in prayer before the Crown of Thorns, that quintessential symbol of Valois kingship. The miniatures have variously been attributed to Jean Pichore, the Master of Philippe de Gueldres, and Jean Coene, but the border decorations are probably by one or more distinct, anonymous illuminators.

Many other fragments from the Gradual are known, and Christopher de Hamel provides a helpful list of these in a 2010 catalogue entry for one found in the Lilly Library.[efn_note]Christopher de Hamel, Gilding the Lilly: a hundred Medieval and illuminated manuscripts in the Lilly Library (Bloomington: Lilly Library, 2010), 183, no. 83.[/efn_note] Of the five strip-like fragments in Bloomington shown below (image from Digital Scriptorium), that on the left shows a striking resemblance to the designs in the Free Library’s corner fragment. Though the palette is different, note the position of the crown around the shaft of the initial L and the ermine-tail fill in the center of the initial A. Altogether, such fragments give an idea of the playful variety of inventive designs used in the volume’s marginal decoration.

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Five strips of border ornament from the choir book of Anne of Brittany and Louis XII, Bloomington, Lilly Library at Indiana University, Ricketts 107, front

A nearly complete page with similar but not identical corner ornamentation, including the reddish-brown background color, survives in Wellesley College Special Collections. A full page with a historiated initial of the Ascension of Mary Magdalene was auctioned at Sotheby’s in 2016, following sales of smaller fragments in 2013 (all of which can be added to de Hamel’s list).[efn_note]Sotheby’s, London, 5 July 2016, lot 45; Sotheby’s, London, 2 July 2013, lot 7 (lower corner of a leaf) and 3 December 2013, lot 15 (six initials), later with Konstantinopel, Enschede.[/efn_note] In the borders of the Wellesley leaf one can find the arms of France quartered with Milan, perhaps indicating that the manuscript was still being produced during the brief period when Louis was both King of France and Duke of Milan (6 September 1499–5 February 1500). The Sotheby’s leaf displays the arms of Orléans, which Louis used prior to his coronation on 7 April 1498. Louis and Anne married in January 1499, so the presence of their initials throughout these decorative borders suggests a subsequent date. From this evidence, we can surmise that the book was being produced (or at least decorated) over a number of years, or, alternatively, that it was being produced at a slightly later date, with its borders serving as a compendium of the royal couple’s previous heraldry.


This post brings our series of 52 weekly discussions to its conclusion, but the discoveries related to the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis project will no doubt continue. Many of the posts offer preliminary findings only, so in time it is hoped that readers will be able to amend, enrich, and correct. Please feel free to contact me with any queries or comments.

With thanks for your interest,

Dr. Nicholas Herman

Curator of Manuscripts,

Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies

University of Pennsylvania


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