Monday, 15 February 2016

Some Rothschild Manuscripts in 1946

Regular readers will know that I have a particular interest in collections of manuscripts formed and/or dispersed in the first half of the 20th century, including the upheavals of the War years.

I recently bought and read Christopher de Hamel, The Rothschilds and Their Collections of Illuminated Manuscripts, having previously only read the original French edition, which he kindly gave me on publication.[1]

It reminded me that one of my best online book purchases, for about $10, is the "Edition définitive" of a scarce catalogue[2], printed on typically poor-quality post-war paper, of an exhibition held in Paris in the summer of 1946:
It includes only a small number of manuscripts, and no reproductions of them, but most can be easily recognised by their descriptions.

In the "Miniatures" section, for example, under the heading "Ecole Française, Bourdichon (Jean)", the description of no.105 includes this:
"Louis XII. Le roi est à genoux sur un coussin bleu à fleurs de lis ... Au bas on lit l'inscription: 'Loys XII de ce nom. Il lest fait en leage de XXXVI ans' ... Anc. collection Lord Taunton, vente à Londres, 1920".
This is the miniature from the Hours of Louis XII, showing the patron, now Getty Museum MS 79a:
It is clearly identifiable in William Beckford's posthumous sale in 1848, so it is perhaps one of two leaves seen in his possession by Gustav Waagen, described in 1838 thus:
"On two leaves of parchment, the Virgin and Child, with persons worshipping them. French miniatures, of the greatest delicacy of about the same period as the prayer-book of Anne of Bretagne--that is, about 1500--and not inferior."
At the Beckford sale it was bought by Henry Laboucherre, later Lord Taunton, and was in the auction of his collection in 1920.[3] It is recorded in the collection of Edmond de Rothschild (1845-1934) by 1933 by MacGibbon,[4] and in 1936 by Maumené,[5] but the latter and the 1946 exhibition catalogue were apparently unknown to de Hamel.[6] In 1936, two years after Edmond's death, his manuscripts were divided between his three children, James, Maurice, and Alexandrine; the Louis XII miniature apparently went to Alexandrine (1884-1965), whose heirs owned it in the 1980s.[7]

In the "Livres" section, no.280 is another manuscript owned by Alexandrine: the incomparable Rothschild Canticles,[8] now Beinecke Library, MS 404:
"Cantique des Cantiques. Cantica Canticorum proverbia ecclesiastes. ... Mss. du XVe siècle (?) sur vélin de 192 ff, orné de 60 miniatures à pleine page et d'environ de 200 petities miniatures dans le texte."
There is full digitization of the manuscript on the Beinecke website, and a detailed description (though not mentioning its vicissitudes during the War, nor mentioning that Alexandrine owned it from 1936 until her death in 1965).

No. 283 is the "Livre d'heures et martyrologe de Catherine de Clèves ... ", which belonged to Alexandrine's brother, Maurice (1881-1957), now Morgan Library, MS M.917 (the 19th-century binding, now separate, has the title "Heures de Catherine de Clèves / Martyrologe"):

There is one more Book of Hours in the 1946 catalogue that I cannot at present recognise. It is described as late 15th-century, in Latin, on vellum, in gothic script, in-octavo, bound in 17th-century brown morocco with two gold fillets and fleurons at the corners, in the style of Du Seuil, and containing 7 full-page miniatures representing:
"[1] le sacrifice de la messe, [2] Saint-Jean à Pathmos, [3] l'Annonciation, [4] le Calvaire, [5] le Roi David, [6] le Vierge et l'Enfant, [7] un service funèbre"
Nos.2-5 and 7 doubtless introduce the Gospel Extracts, the Hours of the Virgin, the Hours or Office of the Cross, the Penitential Psalms, and the Office of the Dead. No.6 perhaps introduces the O intemerata and Obseco te. The really unusual one is the first, on which an identification may depend; it perhaps introduces the Mass of the Virgin. I welcome suggestions from readers.

[1] Christopher de Hamel, Les Rothschild: collectionneurs de manuscrits (Paris, 2004); The Rothschilds and Their Collections of Illuminated Manuscripts (London, 2005).
[2] Les Chefs-d'œuvre des collections privées françaises retrouvés en Allemagne par la Commission de récupération artistique et les services alliés, exposition, Paris, Orangerie des Tuileries, juin - novembre 1946.
[3] Further details of the provenance are provided by Mark Evans in A Masterpiece Reconstructed: The Hours of Louis XII ed. by Thomas Kren & Mark Evans (Los Angeles and London, 2005), pp.81-90.
[4] David MacGibbon, Jean Bourdichon: A Court Painter of the Fifteenth Century (Glasgow, 1933), p.104.
[5] Charles Maumené, Iconographie des rois de France (2 vols, Paris, 1929-32), I, p.104 pl.XVI.
[6] See p.57 of the English edition, under no.70, where no provenance is cited between MacGibbon's reference in 1933 and the 1980s.
[7] Much of de Hamel's book is an attempt to disentangle the convoluted paths of each MS through the Rothschild generations. The division of Edmond's manuscripts between his three children is detailed in chapter 2.
[8] de Hamel, English edition, p.59 MS.98.

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