International Gothic Style of Illuminations
EVOLUTION OF VISUAL
LOOKING FOR RARE
The Illuminated Manuscripts of the International Gothic style were the last of the great European illuminations: a tradition which had begun in Ireland, with the Cathach of Columba (c.610), the Book of Durrow (c.680), the Lindifarne Gospels and the Echternach Gospels (also referred to as the Gospels of Saint Willibrord) (both c.700) and the immortal Book of Kells (c.800). The history of illuminated manuscripts then took us to Medieval England and the Continent, where Carolingian Art (c.750-900) and Ottonian Art (c.900-1050) - inspired by the decorative aesthetics of Byzantium - led us into the wider style of Romanesque painting, before Gothic church architecture - with its glorious stained glass art - triggered its own style of illumination.
During these seven centuries the making of illuminated manuscripts had changed, but not greatly so. Many of the materials and techniques remained the same, although medieval artists had become more skilful, and the size of books had changed. In the beginning, ceremonial gospels bound with jewellery and precious metals were not uncommon. By the fourteenth century, psalters, books of hours and other small scale devotional items were the items most in demand. The advent of the International Gothic would act as a bridge between Medieval art and the new Italian idiom known as Renaissance art.
The birth of an international movement in art is often the natural outcome of close political ties between nations. In 1348, Charles IV of Bohemia became Emperor of Germany. His mother was French, he had been educated in France, and had married a French princess. The ascendancy of Prague as an international centre of culture dates from this period, and the University, based on those at Paris and Bologna, welcomed the Italian humanists Rienzo and Petrarch. Among the artists summoned by the Emperor were the mason Matthieu d'Arras to work on the cathedral of Prague, Johannes Gallicus, a goldsmith, and Tommaso da Modena, an Italian painter. Matthieu d'Arras had earlier been employed by the papal court at Avignon. In 1382, Anne of Bohemia became the wife of Richard II and there is ample evidence to show that she brought Bohemian artists with her to England. The cosmopolitan employment of artists can also be seen in the building of Milan Cathedral where French and German architects co-operated with Lombards at the request of the Visconti family. One fascinating aspect of the International Gothic Style is that no one city, or even country, can claim sole rights of origin. It seems to have been a movement that developed simultaneously in several places at once, presumably at the confluence of different ideas.
The International Gothic style of painting is characterized by a deeper understanding, a new appreciation of nature. The artists conceive new ideals, new aesthetics and fill their pages with wonderfully accurate details. It is essentially an art destined for the aristocrat with his worldly pleasures, his fine horses and fairytale castles reflected in the paintings. However, this is no empty superficiality, for this new Christian art is imbued with a deeply devotional mysticism.
Paris, a supremely important cultural centre, also attracted artists from abroad. There were certainly Italians working there during the later years of the fourteenth century, notably Zenobo da Firenze, who illuminated a Book of Hours for Charles, king of Navarre, and the artists who gathered around the Italian poetess Christine de Pisan. The main stream of immigrants, however, came from the north. Among them came Jean Bondol, an artist born in Bruges and working in Paris from 1368 to 1381. This man is usually thought to be the same artist as the Master of the Bosquets, so called because of his use of small clumps of trees. His illustration for St Augustine's De Civitate Dei (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale) does not show his characteristic landscapes but its figure drawing reveals a new understanding and a sense of the volume of the human figure.
As a centre of book illustration the importance of Paris waned temporarily in face of the great patronage of the Dukes of Burgundy. In 1361, the lands of Burgundy reverted to the French crown and were given by the king to his son Philip the Bold, brother of the future king Charles V. This duke married Margaret, daughter of the Count of Flanders, and in 1384 he inherited the whole of Flanders. Flemish sculptors, painters and goldsmiths flocked to his court at Dijon, among them Claus Sluter, the sculptor of the famous doorway at the Chartreuse de Champmol and the Puits de Moise.
Philip the Bold's younger brother, Jean, Duc de Berry, was also a great patron and was very closely concerned with the production of his books. He often had extra scenes painted into them, and judging from the great number of unfinished books from his library we must assume that he often did not have the patience to await their completion! A real connoisseur, he vied with his brother Philip the Bold for the employment of the very finest artists.
The Tres Belles Heures in Brussels (Bibliotheque Royale) was illustrated by the Flemish artist Jacquemart de Hesdin (c.1355-1414), who was court painter to the Duc de Berry in 1402. The paintings include an exquisitely beautiful Madonna and Child. Against a background of a choir of angels, the Madonna is sitting on a high-sided throne as she suckles the Child, who fidgets impatiently on her knees. This is a Madonna full of earthly grace and humanity, a touching scene of mother and child. The draperies fall to the ground and over the chair in soft, heavy folds. The 'International' character can be seen in the small mouth and the almond-shaped eyes typical of Sienese painting and in the long slim fingers characteristic of Bohemia. The grace and serenity of the page is enhanced by a restrained border with little birds and butterflies resting on the flowered foliage.
Jacquemart de Hesdin disappeared from court circles in 1409 and his place was taken by the three Limbourg brothers - Pol, Jean and Herman de Limbourg. Their masterpiece was the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (now in the Musee Conde, Chantilly), arguably one of the greatest works of French painting produced during the 15th century. The Calendar that prefaces the Hours is shown in a semicircle at the top of each of the twelve pages and is embellished with signs of the Zodiac set against a starry sky. The usual Labours of the Months are replaced by scenes of the Duke himself, going about his courtly pursuits. December shows a stag hunt, the hounds at the kill before a wooded thicket, and January shows the noble Duke entertaining his friends. A lavish feast is spread before them, wine flows from golden ewers and the host bids his guests draw near. The figure painting is highly intricate and all the scenes have this intriguing quality of intimate detail. Court costumes and the manners of the rich can be minutely studied.
The most remarkable feature of this beautiful book is the almost incredible advance made in the development of landscape painting. Suddenly we have great vistas reaching into the distance; castles and trees are drawn with loving care and the sky pales as it touches the horizon. There is a new, if not complete, understanding of pictorial perspective, which must derive from Italy. A pervasive Italianism is evident in the architectural settings, with actual details taken from the Cathedral of Milan. There is no reason to think that the de Limbourg brothers travelled to Italy, but they must have had close contacts with the Italian artists working in Paris before they came to the court of Jean, Duc de Berry. Such fine examples of landscape-painting were not to be seen again until the emergence of such great Flemish masters as Jan van Eyck (1380/90-1441).
In fact, the van Eycks may well have known the religious art of the Limbourg brothers, even if they did not know the artists themselves. The Tres Belles Heures de Notre Dame was one of the books from the library of the Duc de Berry that was left unfinished at his death. It was completed after his death and the additions pose a tantalizing problem. The book was later divided into three parts between Paris, Milan and Turin. A fire destroyed the Turin part in 1904 but the Milan part, which rather confusingly is now at Turin, contains illustrations at the foot of the pages that are of extremely fine quality and may well be the work of Hubert van Eyck.
Grisaille technique, a monochrome form of painting in shades of grey or brown with white heightening, becomes important at this date. The Offices of the Blessed Virgin (Turin, Museo Civico) has illustrations of this type and the Virgin and Child are shown as if seen through a window. This is probably a work of Flemish illumination, and the sculptural weight characteristic of Claus Sluter is predominant in the bulk of the draperies.
The Duc de Berry was not alone in his great patronage of illuminators. Many knights and noblemen wanted fine books for their own personal use. Among them was Jean le Meingre, Marechal de Boucicaut. He employed an anonymous artist, known as the Master of Boucicaut, whose chief work was a Book of Hours (Paris, Musee Jacquemart Andre) executed between 1410 and 1415. It must not be forgotten that we are still in the great age of chivalry and romance. The Marechal de Boucicaut was one of the last Crusaders and Chaucer's 'verray parfit gentil knight' describes him well. This Book of Hours includes the episode of St George and the Dragon, a romantic subject no doubt near to the heart of such a character. The artist displays a painterly style and an inborn sense of linear perspective. Horizons are still unrealistically high, but the artist struggles for a sense of recession with twisting paths and rocks to disguise his limitations.
The Boucicaut Master seems to have worked with the Bedford Master on an illuminated manuscript of the Livre de Merveilles (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale), which recounted the journeys of Marco Polo to the East. The Bedford Master is yet another artist whose name is unknown; he worked from c.1424 to 1435 for John of Lancaster, Duke of Bedford, who had been appointed Regent for the English Crown in France. Among the books he commissioned are the Bedford Breviary (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale) and a Book of Hours (London, British Museum). The Book of Hours contains a portrait of the Duchess of Bedford offering her devotion to the Madonna. St George and the Dragon again occur in the Breviary. These volumes are characterized by an extreme richness of decoration; many of the pages have subsidiary scenes around the main subject, and the spaces are filled with rich swags of foliage. A comparison between the Bedford and the Boucicaut paintings of St George and the Dragon is interesting. It shows that the Bedford Master has a greater sense of decoration; facial expressions have less meaning for him but his scenes are pervaded with a harmonious atmospheric light.
Yet another brother of King Charles V,
the Duke of Anjou, and his duchess, Yolande of Aragon, were collectors
of illuminated manuscripts. About 1414, an artist known as the Rohan
Master entered the service of the Duke. Among his works is the so-called
Rohan Hours (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale). The Rohan Master had
been trained in Paris and worked closely with the Master of Bedford and
the Boucicaut Master. He may have come originally from Spain, the home
of the Duchess Yolande, and the paintings he executed after he joined
the Angevin court are certainly very different from those of his Parisian
contemporaries. In the Rohan Book of Hours, Vespers opens with a painting
of the Flight into Egypt. Here the artist has moved away from the fashionable
style of the period of his association with the Paris masters, to something
England's role in the International Gothic style can be seen as early as 1377 in books written for the royal household. The Coronation Book of Richard II (London, Westminster Abbey) has close connections with the Wenzel Bible written for Richard's brother-in-law, Wenzel of Bohemia. A number of late-fourteenth-century manuscripts have notes written in Low German, probably by illuminators that Richard's queen brought with her.
The great Crucifixion in the Missal written for Robert Lytlington, Abbot of Westminster (London, Westminster Abbey), can also be favourably compared with the best Bohemian manuscripts of the day, but several other styles also made an impression on the English scene.
The name of an English Dominican monk, John Sifer was, occurs in the Sherborne Missal (collection of the Duke of Northumberland) which was written between 1396 and 1407. He and Herman Scherre were the two outstanding artists of the day. There is a sketchbook in Cambridge (Fitzwilliam Museum) that is often associated with Herman Scherre, and this has birds and animals, costumes and faces, drawn with all the accurate attention to detail that Giovannino dei Grassi shows in Italy. There is absolutely no connection between the two, but this comparison merely serves to exemplify the common ideas of artists in two centres that are geographically far apart.
The Carmelite Missal (London, British Museum) is a lavishly decorated book of large proportions. It is unlikely that Herman Scherre himself decorated this book but the illustrations are close to his style and reveal striking connections with contemporary developments in Holland. Brilliant colour is used and the figures are painted with the round, dolllike faces that were so much a feature of the Dutch school.
It is typical of the international character of this movement that one of the finest Books of Hours made in England was for that same John of Lancaster, Duke of Bedford, who had commissioned the Breviary and Book of Hours from Paris. The English Bedford Hours (London, British Museum) contains a very large number of small historiated initials, some of which hold scenes from the Life of Christ. Compared with the grand illustrations of the French Bedford Master, these seem to be almost traditional and very simple, but the handling is assured and the artist shows a remarkable naturalism on a minute scale, prefacing the miniature painting for which the English court would become famous.
The impact of the International Gothic style was so strong that it affected the early Renaissance artists of Central Italy. Even Lorenzo Ghiberti (1380-1455) came momentarily under its sway. Admittedly, its origins owe much to the fourteenth-century Sienese artist, Simone Martini (1284-1344), but Ghiberti was working in a Florence increasingly dominated by the new spirit of the Early Renaissance (c.1400-90).
It is rare to find a major Italian artist working on illuminated manuscripts, but in Florence at the end of the fourteenth century we see Lorenzo Monaco (1370-1425) working in the monastic scriptorium of S. Maria degli Angeli. His early manuscripts reflect the strong Florentine traditions of such artists as Orcagna, but later a refinement and an increasing delicacy come into his work through the influence of the International Gothic style. In turn, Lorenzo Monaco's influence is seen in a work such as the Choir Book in the library of San Marco at Florence. Even at his most Gothic, Lorenzo still has a narrative strength and a grandeur to which northern artists could only aspire. Yet the lines of his drapery are soft and fluid, the figures tall and elegant, and he imparts that sense of introspective mysticism that is so much a part of the International Gothic style.
This new movement found greatest favour in the more northerly cities of Verona and Milan. North Italian artists had established themselves in Paris and in Prague, where, of course, they assimilated the new style. Equally, the artists who stayed in Italy came under its influence. Giovannino dei Grassi, born c.1370, is the supreme Italian exponent of International Gothic. A sketchbook at Bergamo shows his passionate interest in the observation of birds and animals, balanced by his courtly delight in costumes and fabrics. He is thought to be the artist of a Breviary known as Il Beroldo (Milan, Biblioteca Trivulziana). Much of his fresh observation is lost in this work, painted to commission and limited by the set illustrations, but his vitality shines through and is well shown in the small scene of David and Goliath. His illustrations for Dante's Divine Comedy (Biblioteca Trivulziana) contain pen and ink drawings of lesser quality than those of Grassi, but again the courtly aspect of Milanese art is underlined.
The Taccuinum Sanitas was a 'book of reason' with a short text and a great number of illustrations which, like the Biadaiolo in Florence, are of humble subjects painted with careful attention to detail. Among the copies of this work written in Lombardy is the book now in Paris (Bibliotheque Nationale). This includes scenes of butter merchants selling their goods and of tailors at work. One imagines that it was just this sort of illustration that impressed the artists working in Paris at this time, for the realism of intimate detail is powerful and all-important.
The ruling dynasty of Milan, the Visconti, had close political associations with the Burgundian dukes. The Visconti's principal artistic achievement was the building of Milan Cathedral under their patronage. They did not neglect manuscripts, and among the artists working for them was Michelino da Besozzo. This artist was responsible for the frontispiece to the Funeral Oration composed in honour of Gian Galeazzo Visconti (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale). Idealized form and ethereal grace are combined, in the scene of the Christ Child bestowing reward on Gian Galeazzo, to such perfection that Michelino can well be compared with the best French and Flemish artists of the period. The Winter Missal of the Visconti (Milan, Biblioteca Ambrosiana) was illuminated for them by a certain Anovelo da Imbonate. In comparison with the finest works of Lombardy, this Missal is rather monotonously illustrated, and the artist's national stature is hardly detectable in the abundance of decorative courtly detail.
For a long time Venetian painting remained in close contact with Byzantine art and it was not until the end of the thirteenth century that an independent style emerged. Few religious books of this period have survived, and we must trace the stylistic developments in Mariegole - books commemorating the foundations of guilds - and other secular works. Still strongly under the influence of Byzantine examples, the artists drew their inspiration from a variety of sources and combined them into a rather unsatisfactory style of their own. Towards the end of the fourteenth century a new wave of influence from the North can be detected and it was this that revitalized their art.
During the first half of the fourteenth century, the artistic centres of Bohemia had been amply prepared for the great flowering of manuscript illumination after 1350. The important implications of the foundation of the University of Prague have already been mentioned. At this moment, Bohemia came to the forefront of artistic development, and remained there for half a century.
A good example of the transition towards the new style can be seen in the illustration from the History of the New Testament (Munich, Staatsbibliothek). This shows Christ and Mary Magdalene in a garden enclosed by a wicket fence. This is an early example of a subject that became very popular during the fifteenth century in Germany. The figures are firmly placed on the ground, and behind the fence we see the small clumps of trees that remind us of the art of Jean Pucelle (1290-1334), the great Gothic illuminator.
The chancellor of Charles IV was called Jean de Streda, or John of Neumarkt. He may have been responsible for Petrarch's visit to Prague and the two certainly carried on a correspondence. The Liber Viaticus of Jean de Streda was a breviary especially written to be taken on journeys, and it is now preserved in the National Library at Prague. It was written c.1360 and contains historiated initials in a style clearly based on Italian prototypes. The figures are firmly constructed and well arranged in space, and in the borders the acanthus foliage of the School of Bologna is introduced - Note: not to be confused with the Baroque era Bolognese School established by Annibale Carracci. Closely connected with Liber Viaticus is the Laus Mariae of Conrad von Hainburg (Prague, National Library). The Presentation in the Temple again shows this ambitious attempt at the construction of space. The soft swinging curves of the drapery do not hide the forms beneath, and the overall impression is one of rounded softness.
The group of books written for Jean de Streda is followed by a collection of manuscripts written for the successor of Charles IV, King Wenzel of Bohemia. The principal works of this group are the two bibles written in German and a number of secular manuscripts including the poems of Wolfram and an astrological treatise in Munich. The illustrations of the last book include skilfully drawn birds and animals and can be favourably compared with the sketchbook of Giovannino dei Grassi at Bergamo. In general, the books of King Wenzel are much more lavishly illustrated than those of Jean de Streda, and there is some modification of the Italian influence.
By about 1400 the style that reached such perfection in Prague seems to fade away. It is replaced by a far more sketchy style of illumination, and books are decorated with brisk line-drawings in pen and ink. Part of the reason for the abrupt change in style may be due to the increasing use of paper instead of parchment, and its subsequent limitations. The heritage of the soft delicate style of the Prague illuminators was taken over by artists trained on panel paintings, such as Master Theodorik, who worked for Bohemian royalty at the Castle of Karlstein. Illustrations in the Luneburg Sachsenspiegel (Luneburg, Ratsbibliothek) c.1400 retain the rich painterly quality of the Bohemian school, but this is probably the work of an artist who painted the 'Golden Altarpiece', and was renowned as a panel-painter. Similarly, a page of the Crucifixion from a manuscript now in Basle (private collection) can be most closely compared with panels by the so-called Veronica Master.
As the fifteenth century progressed in Germany, the style originated in those Prague manuscripts became more emphatically fluid and its immediate freshness was lost. Faces were painted with almost cloying sweetness, and the term 'soft style' is justifiable in more than one sense.
The International Gothic style did not come abruptly to a close, but in each country national characteristics again began to reassert themselves. In Germany, we see this change as early as 1405, whereas in France the style was perpetuated by the Bedford Master and the Boucicaut Master for another twenty years.
As in earlier centuries, it was Northern Europe that saw the important advances in manuscript illumination, and our last section will be devoted almost exclusively to the manuscripts of France and Flanders. Of course, the other countries continued to produce fine books; for example, Italy's famous Andrea Mantegna is known to have been a fine illuminator. But again, Italian book painting languished behind the advances made in more monumental works of art.
Before we turn to the main streams of development in France and Flanders during the fifteenth century, some mention must be made of Rene d'Anjou (1409-1480). Rene was Duke of Anjou, Count of Provence, and King of Naples and Sicily although he lost the latter to the Aragonese in 1443. He was thus a man whose interests constantly gravitated towards the south. His courts at Anjou and at Aix were cosmopolitan centres where he surrounded himself with Italian scholars and Flemish illuminators. Rene d'Anjou, a deeply religious man, was also an intellectual who wrote fine poetry.
A number of illuminated manuscripts by one man are closely connected with Rene's own writings, and so it is often thought that Rene was also an artist. This is a keenly debated question to which a definite answer will probably never be found, but the paintings have a spiritual quality and an originality not found in the work of his immediate contemporaries. The' romance of Cuer des Amours Epris (Vienna, Nationalbibliothek) was composed by Rene in 1457. It is an allegorical romance and in one page we see the lovelorn Cuer sleeping, while his companion reads the magic inscription on the well-head. A translucency pervades these paintings, and the artist boldly shows night scenes; in this illustration the sun is seen rising over the meadows. The early morning light floods across the fields, casting deep shadows behind the figures. Rene also wrote the Mortifiement de la Vaine Plaisance (Brussels, Bibliotheque Royale) after the death of his first wife. It is a Christian allegory on the futility of earthly life and the illustrations reflect the deeply spiritual content of the text. The same hand appears in the illustrations of Boccaccio's Teseide (Vienna, Nationalbibliothek) where we see an artist who could illustrate lively, bustling narratives. Cherishing the old chivalrous ideals of the fourteenth century, Rene d'Anjou founded the Order of the Knights of St Maurice, and his interest in courtly traditions can be seen in his Book of Tournaments (Paris, bibliotheque Nationale) written between 1460 and 1465, in which he relishes every detail of the knightly ceremonies.
Rene, in common with the earlier artist, the Master of the Rohan Hours, had neither school nor followers. An isolated and enchanting artist, Rene would attract our attention even if this were his only accomplishment, but the sum of his talents, his nobility of mind and deed, make him a truly remarkable person.
The rising importance of Flanders itself as a centre for manuscript illumination can, to a great extent, be explained by the continued patronage of the Dukes of Burgundy. After the death of Philip the Bold, Philip the Good later inherited the domains of Burgundy and Flanders. Unlike his ancestor, Philip the Good chose to live in the northerly area of his kingdom, and had residences in Ghent and in Brussels, at Lille and The Hague. The Flemish painters who had earlier flocked south to the court at Dijon were now able to work on their home ground. Following in the family tradition, Philip was a great collector of illuminated books. Historians such as David Aubert and Jean Mansel were also at his court. He occasionally gave work to Parisian artists, but generally the Duke found abundant talent nearer at hand.
Among the finest illustrators working for the Duke was Jean Tavernier, whose style can be seen in David Aubert's Conquests of Charlemagne (Brussels, Bibliotheque Royale). Tavernier, working during the mid-fifteenth century, had an unrivalled mastery of the grisaille technique and in monochrome shades was able to give a vivid account of daily life. In contrast, Loyset Liedet reveals a rather stiff, dry style in his illuminations of the Histoires Romaines (Paris, Bibliotheque de l'Arsenal). He did have a good sense of composition and was a very prolific artist, but his work compares unfavourably with that of Tavernier.
Simon Marmion, who was known in his day as the 'prince of illuminators', was a Frenchman who also worked for Philip the Good. He illustrated the Fleur des Histoires (Brussels, Bibliotheque Royale) and his hand has also been attributed to the frontispiece of the Hainaut Chronicles (Bibliotheque Royale, Brussels) of 1448. The creative influence of Roger van der Weyden and of Jan van Eyck is felt in the fine composition and the clear understanding of space. The size of the hall, allowing plenty of room for all the onlookers, is carefully indicated by the tiled floor that leads the eye back into depth. Each face is individually treated and among the onlookers one can single out Chancellor Rolin who appears again in the painting of the Madonna by Jan van Eyck (Paris, Louvre).
Philip the Good was succeeded by his son Charles the Bold in 1467, who also employed great numbers of illuminators, but in 1477 Charles the Bold was killed in battle against the King of France. The established workshops in Ghent and Bruges continued to produce books of extremely high quality, but the artists who influenced them now were not those great pioneers, Roger van der Weyden and van Eyck, but Hugo van der Goes and Gerard David. One of the triumphs of this later school of Flemish painting is the Grimani Breviary (Venice, Biblioteca Marciana). Several artists had a hand in the many illustrations, which are of the highest quality. Space and lighting no longer present any serious problems to the artists, but it must not be forgotten that this was written at the beginning of the sixteenth century.
Two great families stand out in this last great school of manuscript illumination: the Bening family and the Horebout dynasty. Sanders Bening had three active children who worked for him, and Gerhard Horebout was the father of perhaps the first woman illuminator, Susanna, who later moved to England and married a member of Henry VIII's court. The Hortulus Animae of Margaret of Austria (Vienna, National-bibliothek), which probably came from the workshop of Horebout, has charming illustrations set in a wide border of decoration. These borders are far removed from the foliate decorations of earlier centuries and show the first signs of the Northern delight in still-life painting. Flowers and fruit are treated with minute perfection, and the pan-sies and arbutus blossoms are skilfully modelled with light so that they seem to spring from the surface of the page. The borders of these pages are certainly the most rewarding part of these later books, for the treatment of the main subjects is good but in no way inspiring.
After 1420, the importance of Paris declined, owing to the English occupation, the madness of the king, and the terrible political strife. The metropolis no longer attracted artists, and we see the rise of provincial schools of painting.
The Tours-born Jean Fouquet (1420-81) was the finest French painter of the day. He must have been highly thought of by his contemporaries, for we know that he went to Rome and painted a portrait of the Pope, Eugenius IV. Sadly, no record survives of Fouquet's painting before his trip (1445-1447), but his journey to Italy left a permanent mark on his work. His name occurs in only one manuscript, the Antiquites Judaiques, but others are easily attributable to him on stylistic grounds.
The Hours of Etienne Chevalier (Chantilly, Musee Conde) are the finest testimony to Fouquet's greatness. Etienne Chevalier was Minister of Finance to the King and on almost every page his name is prominently displayed. A lifelike portrait of Chevalier and his patron saint is shown in the Adoration of the Virgin. This book was probably made soon after the artist's return from Italy, and it shows the closest connections with the paintings he saw there. The setting of this scene shows a mix of Classical and Gothic architecture, of Northern and Southern ideals of beauty. Reflections of the art of Fra Angelico can be seen in the half-turned figures and the grouping of the angels, but the Madonna is much closer to the style of the Early Netherlandish artists. Her blue robe, heightened with gold, spreads over the floor in rich undulating folds that remind us of Robert Campin/Master of Flemalle. Although deeply impressed with the art of Italy, Fouquet remains an essentially Northern artist.
Soon after the completion of the Book of Hours for Etienne Chevalier, Fouquet received a commission from the King, Charles VII, to illustrate the Grandes Chroniques de France (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale). This was no easy task, but Fouquet had the power to bring the rather unexciting historical events to life. He shows a dignified approach to the subject and enhances his scenes with careful detail.
The Antiquites Judaiques (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale) was yet another of the books left unfinished by that great connoisseur, Jean, Duc de Berry. Fouquet was asked to complete the illustrations started by the Limbourg brothers. The scenes are crowded with figures and seem to vibrate with activity. Fouquet did not feel it necessary to put his scenes in historical settings, and Jericho is shown as a small French village with a river meandering around the hillside in the distance.
In 1469, the King founded the Order of St Michael, and he must have commissioned Fouquet to illustrate the frontispiece to the Book of Statutes (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale). This page reaffirms Fouquet's skill in portrait art, for a number of the knights can be singled out as important members of the court circle.
Jean Fouquet no doubt had a large following of admirers and pupils. Among his most eminent followers was Jean Bourdichon. It was Bourdichon who carried the tradition of manuscript illumination on into the sixteenth century; in comparison with the great master his art must be considered less important. He made Fouquet his example but could never match the latter's fresh eloquence. From c.1484, Bourdichon was court painter to King Charles VII, and among his works is the Book of Hours written for the Queen, Anne of Brittany (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale). The illustrations to this book comprise large, heavy paintings of solid figures set in an architectural framework. They are competent but rather cold and mechanical. The work of Jean Bourdichon can also be detected in the scene of the Centaur killed by Lapiths from the Hours of Charles d'Angouleme (Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale). Tremendous excitement should fill this dramatic scene, but one feels that Fouquet would have imparted this feeling with far more effect. Bourdichon worked for a man who tried to perpetuate the chivalrous ideals of earlier times, and bearing in mind that Bourdichon did not die until 1521, it is obvious that he was a consciously retrogressive artist, totally unmoved by the great movements of the Renaissance in Italy and Flanders.
At this time, the wonderful decorative art of manuscript illumination, which had flourished for many centuries, came abruptly to a close. The Renaissance was to affect every facet of man's intellectual and artistic existence. The conception of painting underwent a fundamental change, assuming forms which were to continue into modern times. Portraiture and landscape-painting, large-scale religious paintings on canvas and panel were the new order. At the same time, the invention of printing burst upon the tranquil world of illuminated, handwritten books like some undreamed of automation in our modern world. As the printing of books gathered momentum, they changed from being the privilege of the wealthy few to the joy of great numbers of mankind. Even if such technical advances had not been achieved at this period, the change of attitude to religion, the questionings of the great Renaissance intellectuals, the attacks of the Reformation, and the ultimate rise of materialism would have sufficed to undermine the simple piety which, in a relatively static world, had produced this lasting example of personal endeavour, the illuminated manuscript.
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