THE SOURCES OF ENGLISH FIFTEENTH-CENTURY ILLUMINATION

Attributed to the Netherlands—Not altogether French—The home of Anne of Bohemia, Richard II.'s queen—Court of Charles IV. at Prag—Bohemian Art—John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia—The Golden Bull of Charles IV.—Marriage of Richard II.—The transformation of English work owing to this marriage and the arrival of Bohemian artists in England—Influence of Queen Anne on English Art and Literature—Depression caused by her death—Examination of Roy. MS. 1 E. 9, and 2 A. 18—The Grandison Hours—Other MSS.—Introduction of Flemish work by Edward IV.

It has been suggested by a high authority that the immediate sources of the third period of English illumination were Netherlandish, but probable as this seems at first sight, there is another explanation which seems to the present writer to be a better one. As already pointed out, the influence on English work before 1377, notwithstanding political conditions, are distinctly French. After this date, though the artistic relation with France is not broken off, yet long before 1390 we find this new influence which is not French, and for which we have no special evidence that it is Netherlandish. If we go, however, a little farther afield, we shall find it. In the new work is a softer kind of foliage and a greater variety of sweet colour, and both these characteristics are found in a school of illumination that was being formed under the auspices of the Emperor Charles IV. at Prag in Bohemia. The artists in that capital who executed the famous Golden Bull and commenced the grand Wenzel Bible were a select band of Frenchmen and Italians; the combined result of whose designs and labours was this very mixture of Gothic ivy leaf and thorn with the softer Othonian and Roman foliages and a new scheme of colour. Charles IV., son of that famous John of Luxembourg, the blind king of Bohemia, who perished at Crécy, was himself King of Bohemia as well as Emperor, and a man of brilliant personal accomplishments and cultivated tastes in literature and art.

Becoming Emperor the very next year after his succession to the throne of Bohemia, he fixed his residence at Prag, where he began the building of the new city, and founded a university on the model of that of Paris, where he had studied, and whence he had married his first wife, Blanche, daughter of Charles, Count of Valois. His university soon attracted some thousands of students, and with them no small crowd of literary men and artists, both from France and Italy. The great fact, however, to remember about Charles IV. is the Golden Bull, the masterly scheme by which all matters concerning the election to the Empire were in future to be settled. All the Constitutions were written in a book called, from the bulla or seal of gold which was appended to it, the Golden Bull, of which the text was drawn up either at Metz or Nuremberg in 1356, and many copies distributed throughout the Empire. It is further affirmed that the absolute original is at Frankfort. But the splendid copy made by order of the Emperor Wenzel in 1400 is still preserved in the Imperial Library at Vienna. And as it is ah example of the style of illumination practised in Prag during the reign of Charles IV., we may call it Bohemian. It is true that the foliages are a little more luxuriant in this Wenzel-book than in the earliest examples of the style seen in England, but the twenty years which had elapsed would easily account for this difference. As compared, however, with either French or Netherlandish, the new English style shows a much greater similarity to the work then being done in Lower Bavaria. In these soft curling foliages and the fresh carnations of the flesh-tints of the Prag and Nuremberg illuminators we may trace the actual source of the remarkable transformation seen in English illumination after the marriage of Richard II.

Charles IV. was four times married. His successor, Wenzel, whose ghastly dissipations can only be regarded as the terrible proofs of insanity, was the child of his third wife. His fourth wife, the beautiful daughter of the Duke of Pomerania and Stettin, had four children, of whom Sigismund, the eldest, afterwards succeeded Wenzel as emperor, and Anne, the third, came to England as the wife of Richard II. The magnificence of her equipage and the crowd of persons who formed her retinue are noticed by contemporary writers, and the effect upon English manners was instantaneous. Her beauty, sweetness of manners, and culture rendered her at once not merely the idol of her husband, who, says Walsingham, “could scarcely bear her to be out of his sight,” but universally beloved by all the English nation.