Saturday, 5 September 2020

Amigotus and the Agen Breviary


On Wednesday this week a "European Illustrated Manuscript Page on Parchment", shown above, was sold in Lichfield County, Connecticut, at the local auction room, between the Community Center and a Auto Parts store:

As is often the case with provincial auctions, medieval leaves keep incongruous company: the preceding lot was this 20th-century pastel, which somehow failed to find a buyer:
and this etching after Corot, which sold to the only interested bidder, for $20:

One might argue that the medieval leaf is not worth much more than the etching; as the description states, it has "Holes, tears, wrinkles":

But despite the defects, it was clearly once from an impressive volume. Its framed size is reported as 23½" × 18¾", approximately 60 × 46 cm, so the leaf itself must be roughly 50 × 40 cm: a grand size for a Breviary, which are often fairly small, hand-held volumes.

We know it is from a Breviary from the rubrics, with Versicles, Responses, Psalms and a Lesson (Lectio) numbered "VI". The very first line of the page (the verso; the recto was not photographed) is part of the famous verse about the rock on which the church will be built, with a play on the name of the apostle Peter: "super hanc petram edificabo ecclesiam meam ...":
The liturgical content of the whole page clearly concerns one of the feasts of St Peter: the first piece of music begins "Surge Petre ..."

and the Lesson begins "Ille sancto Petro ...", followed by a Response "Petre amas me", and an instruction to find the gospel reading in the text of the feast of the Octave of the apostles Peter and Paul:
"Petre amas me. Evangelium. Ius-
sit Ihesus discipulos suos. Require
in octava apostolorum Petri et Pauli.

The text and music therefore appear to come from a common feast, celebrated across Europe, and of little help in dating or localising the manuscript.

Why, then, am I bothering to draw attention to this leaf?

Every week, I see leaves from of Bibles, Books of Hours, Psalters, Breviaries, and especially choirbooks, on eBay and other online auction sites. Usually they do not warrant more than a few seconds scrutiny each, but in this case I thought I recognised the scribe. Not only that, but if I was right about the scribe, whose name is known, then I could probably identify the manuscript from which the leaf comes, which is closely datable and localisable. I emailed Émilie Nadal, who has worked most recently on the parent manuscript, ad she kindly confirmed my gut feeling.

In her 1989 catalogue description of a volume of leaves now in Baltimore (attributed in de Ricci’s Census to “ca. 1300 ... written in France”), Lilian Randall made a compelling case for an origin in the area of Toulouse, perhaps for a Cistercian House [1]. She noted: the inclusion of Exuperius, archbishop of Toulouse; Orientius, bishop of Auch; Genius, patron saint of Lectoure (diocese of Auch); Salvius, bishop of Albi; Bertrand, bishop of Comminges (diocese of Toulouse), with an unusually long rubric, mentioning the Cistercian house of Escaladieu in the diocese of Tarbes (“fratribus scale dei cisterciensis ordinis”); Dulcidius, bishop of Agen; and a reading that includes an account of King Louis’s campaign against the heretics of Toulouse.

Plotting these places on a map gives a clear idea of the general region for which the manuscript must have been made:

In 1998 François Avril, in an article that identifies a further 154 leaves of the same manuscript, now in Paris, drew attention to saints who also point to Albi (Tiburtius, Salvius, and Cecilia) [2]. He also noted that there are instructions to the illuminator in Occitan, and confirmed that liturgical and stylistic considerations all point to Toulouse as the place of origin. He showed that the book was written between 1297 and 1315 for the use of a cathedral. He observed that two artists contributed to the volumes, and suggested that the establishment of the university at Toulouse in 1299 stimulated the development of the city as a centre of book-making, especially for the production of legal texts. He was also able to attribute to the same scribe two other manuscripts, a Bible now in Stuttgart, given to Toulouse cathedral before 1390 (Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Cod. bibl. 2o 8), and the Missal of Clement V, now divided between Cambridge and the Vatican (Fitzwilliam Museum, MS McClean 51 and Archivio di San Pietro B 76).

In 2008 Alison Stones identified yet another large portion of the manuscript, at the British Library (Add. MS 42132) [3]. It includes a colophon in which the scribe reveals his name, Amigotus, written backwards as "sutogima":
"Verum scriptoris si scire
nomen velletis oportet si-
ne mora quod vertatur
Stones reports that his script has also been recognized in two Dominican Missals now in Toulouse (MSS 103 and 105), lending even more weight to an origin in that area, but very similar script is found in at least one earlier manuscript probably from Agen, suggesting that he may have come from further north.

The style of illumination was further studied the following year, by Alessandra Maria Bilotta, and more comprehensively situated within the context of a number of other Toulouse manuscripts [4].

The pieces were drawn together by Alison Stones in her Survey volume [5]. Suggesting Toulouse, Bordeaux, or Agen, she favoured the latter, because the Bishop of Agen from 1292 to 1313 was the uncle of Pope Clement V, for whom the Cambridge-Vatican Missal mentioned above was written by our scribe, Amigotus.

As recently as 2018 Émilie Nadal confirmed that the Breviary comes from Agen cathedral; she found a 19th-century description of the manuscript, at which time it had over 500 leaves, bound in four volumes, and was from the Cathedral of Agen [6], and just last year she was instrumental in getting a leaf repatriated to the Bibliothèque municipale at Agen [7].

In due course it may be possible to obtain a photograph of the other side of the newly-discovered leaf, and thus work out its precise position in the parent volume. The appearance of this leaf in a provincial auction in Connecticut gives us hope that yet more -- widely scattered -- leaves are waiting to be recognised.

[1] Lilian Randall, Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Walters Art Gallery, I: France, 875–1420 (Baltimore and London, 1989), no. 60

[2] François Avril, ‘Un élément retrouvé du bréviaire choral W. 130 de la Walters Art Gallery: Le ms. N. a. lat. 2511 de la Bibliothèque nationale de France’, The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery, 55–56 (1998), 123–34.

[3] Alison Stones, ‘Amigotus and His Colleagues: A Note on Script, Decoration, and Patronage in Some South-Western French Manuscripts c. 1300’, in Régionalisme et internationalisme: Problèmes de paléographie et de codicologie du moyen âge. Actes du XVe Colloque du Comité international de paléographie latine (Vienne, 13–17 Septembre 2005), ed. by O. Kresten and F. Lackner, Veröffentlichungen Der Kommission Für Schrift- Und Buchwesen Des Mittelalters, IV, 5 (Vienna, 2008), pp. 235–256. The manuscript is digitised at

[4] M.A. Bilotta, ‘Images dans les marges des manuscrits toulousains de la première moitié du XIV e siècle: Un monde imaginé entre invention et réalité’, Mélanges de l’École française de Rome: Section moyen âge, 121, no. 2 (2009), pp. 349–59

[5] Alison Stones, Gothic Manuscripts: 1260–1320, Part Two, I, A survey of manuscripts illuminated in France (2 vols, Brepols, 2014), cat. no. VII-30 pp. 220–23, ills. 431–41.

[6] Émilie Nadal, ‘Provenance Confirmed for the Dismembered Breviary of the Cathedral of Agen (1297–1313): Add. MS. 42132’, eBLJ []  (2018).

[7] Émilie Nadal, ‘Un feuillet enluminé de retour à Agen (1791-2019)’, Bulletin monumental, 177.4 (2019), 385–86.


  1. Quite interesting! Thank you so much. Is it known where the leaf will go? Best wishes, Helen

  2. Auction houses do not reveal the names of buyers, without their permission, but it may be possible to find out in due course. I expect it will be going to a US private collector.


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