Ivy-leaf and chequered backgrounds—Occasional introduction of plain burnished gold—Reign of Charles VI. of France—The Dukes of Orleans, Berry, and Burgundy; their prodigality and fine taste for MSS.—Christine de Pisan and her works—Description of her “Mutation of Fortune” in the Paris Library—The “Roman de la Rose” and “Cité des Dames”—Details of the French style of illumination—Burgundian MSS., Harl. 4431—Roy. 15 E. 6—The Talbot Romances—Gradual approach to Flemish on the one hand and Italian on the other.

In addition to the expanding ivy leaf which forms the chief feature of fourteenth-century book-ornament, we find the miniaturist as a further improvement adding delicate colour in the faces. Also that instead of the invariable lozenging or diapering of the background he occasionally makes a background of plain burnished gold. And as if to prove that his predecessors were really hampered with the restrictions imposed by their imitations of painted glass, he begins to try his best to paint up his miniatures into real pictures with high lights on draperies and shading upon the folds. A certain amount of flatness, however, still remains, but it scarcely seems to have been the intention or aim of the painter. There is a similar flatness in the work of all the early schools of painting, which had no reference whatever to the destination of the picture. See, for instance, the Origny Treasure Book in the Print Room at Berlin (MS. 38), and the Life of St. Denis in the National Library at Paris (Nos. 2090-2), both MSS. dating somewhere about 1315. The drapery shading in the latter MS. is no longer the work of the pen, but brush-work in proper colour. The Westreenen Missal in the Museum at the Hague, which dates about 1365, though not a French MS., is an example of the fact that by the middle of the century the tradition of penwork outline and flat-colouring had become pretty nearly obsolete.

The reign of the afflicted Charles VI. of France, disastrous in the extreme to the material welfare of his own subjects, full of untold misery to the poor, and of oppression to the growing community of artisans and traders, was nevertheless, as regards literature and the arts, a period of progress and even splendour. The King's incapacity, by affording his uncles and brothers opportunities for fingering the revenues during the self-appointed and irresponsible regencies, enabled them to gratify their magnificent tastes in the purchasing of costly furniture and the ordering of splendid books. Louis of Orleans, usually credited with the worst of this prodigality, was by no means singular in his conduct. His uncle, the Duke of Berry, while daily earning the execrations of the tax-payers by his unscrupulous employment of the public money, was constantly enriching his library, and both he and his brothers and nephews were in the habit of sending priceless volumes, illuminated by the best artists, as wedding and birthday gifts, to each other, or their wives or acquaintances. We talk, and justly, of the fine taste and noble love of literature of Jean de Berry. His contemporaries, at least those beneath his own rank, looked upon him as a tyrant and plunderer. His disastrous administration of Languedoc was described as “one long fête where the excess of expenditure was rivalled only by the excess of scandal.” If the marmousets could have hanged him they would. In default they hanged his treasurer.

All this maladministration was very wrong, but we cannot afford to burn the MSS. in consequence, for the Bible, the “Grandes Heures,” and other books once possessed by the wicked Duke, are among the most precious relics of any age. Add to them the beautiful volumes of poetry and romance composing the contemporary literature of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and we have treasures that we dare not relinquish.

By the beginning of the fifteenth century pure French illumination was losing its own characteristics and acquiring others. In the North, in Flanders and Brabant, Franche-Comté and the Burgundian Dukedom generally, it was becoming that peculiar kind of French which had received the name of Burgundian. It can scarcely be said to be Flemish enough to rank as Netherlandish, yet neither can it stand side by side with “French of Paris.”

Let us look at a few examples. There is the Book of Offices in the Library of St. Geneviève at Paris (Bibl. Lat. 66), also the St. Augustine in the same library. Also a small crowd of volumes in the Royal Library at Brussels, another in the National Library at Paris. One of the richest examples known is the “Psalter of the Convent of Salem,” in the University Library at Heidelberg. Other grand MSS. are the two volumes of the “Mutacion de Fortune” of Christine de Pisan and the “Cité des Dames” of the same authoress. The volume of her poems, etc., in the British Museum, is a marvellously fine work (Harl. 4431). The greater part of this volume is in the earlier or “Berry” style, i.e. the fine pen-sprays of ivy leaf of burnished gold. But the first grand border is altogether transitional, consisting of the pen-sprays of golden ivy leaf alternating with sprays of natural flowers. This innovation, it has been said, was due to the school of van Eyck, but as no proof is forthcoming that J. van Eyck ever worked on illuminating we may be content to say that it arose about 1413, and that probably it came from Bruges. It is the beginning of the Burgundian style. But the ornamental leafage is different from ordinary Brugeois, inasmuch as it is “pearled” along the central veins, and is not symmetrical. The pearling is perhaps a suggestion from glass painting. It was very early adapted in German foliage work. On the first fly-leaf are several signatures, including the name and device of Louis Gruthuse: “Plus est en vous Gruthuse.” The miniatures still remain French with mostly panelled backgrounds, some with landscape. It is evidently a transitional document.

Brit. Mus. Harl. MS. 2897, fol. 184
Brit. Mus. Harl. MS. 2952, fol. 22

The works of Christine de Pisan, the popular—one may fairly say fashionable—authoress, were perhaps among the best known and most widely read while Caxton was setting up his press at Westminster, as she was among the most welcome guests at the Courts of Charles VI. and Philip of Burgundy. She was the daughter of a distinguished Venetian savant, Thomas de Pisan, who had come at the invitation of Charles le Sage to Paris as “Astrologue du Roi.” At the age of fifteen Christine, who was as beautiful as she was accomplished, became the wife of a Picard gentleman named Estienne Castel. Two years afterwards the death of the King brought trouble upon her father, and with it sickness and despondency. Then followed sorrow upon sorrow. Whilst she was herself still burdened with the cares of early motherhood her father died, and within nine years from her marriage the sudden death from contagion, of her husband, to whom she was most fondly attached, left her a widow with two little children dependent upon her, and with only what she herself could earn as a means of livelihood. She was not yet twenty-six years old. To assuage her misery she betook herself to study and the composition of essays and poetry. Her works speedily brought her the recognition of distinguished personages; her children were provided for, and she herself soon acquired both fortune and reputation. Charles VI. allowed her a pension, and she composed for his Queen, Isabella of Bavaria, several important treatises. Among her numerous compositions were “Les cens Histoires de Troyes” in verse, “Le Chemin de longue estude,” “La Mutacion de Fortune,” and a Life of Charles V., the latter composed at the request of Philip the Good of Burgundy. But the work which sets off her wit and learning to the best advantage was an allegorical essay on Womanhood, which she called “Le Trésor de la Cité des Dames.” Altogether her works include fifteen books and about sixty smaller writings, which she dedicated to the King and Queen of France, the Dukes of Burgundy and Orleans, and the princesses and princes of the Court.

One beautifully illuminated copy of the Mutation of Fortune in two volumes is a curious example of its title, for one volume of it is in the National Library at Paris (fonds fr. 603) and the other in the Royal Library at Munich. In the former we have her portrait. In a blue gown she sits at her writing-desk busy at her work. On her head is the muslin-draped and high-peaked “hennin.” Beside her a table covered with a green cloth and laden with crimson and violet-bound books and an inkstand. Her chair has a high back, and the floor is of the usual kind seen in illuminations; that is, as if composed of a parquetry of coloured woodwork or of tiles of various kinds of marble. On the sill of the Gothic-latticed window, through which we catch a glimpse of the blue sky, stands a vase of flowers. Not perhaps an ideal lady's boudoir, but still an apartment of taste, and an altogether charming little picture. In the second miniature of the Munich volume Christine is standing in a chamber—in the same costume as above described. The pictures on the walls are—a fortress, a watchman, two knights, a prince with crown and sceptre, seated on his throne, surrounded by courtiers; a duel; and a martyr having his head struck off. Just such mediæval subjects as we may expect in a fifteenth-century mansion.

In a copy of the “Cité des Dames” at Munich is another portrait of Christine. The book is an Apology for the feminine sex, and it is well thought out. It appears that the conversation of the time was not always free from rather severe sarcasm concerning the ladies. We learn from Du Verdier that the continuator of the Romance of the Rose narrowly escaped most condign chastisement from some of the insulted sex at the French Court for the base insinuations in his poem against the character of women. Christine herself heartily disapproved of the Romance of the Rose, and wrote a sharp criticism upon it. Her “Cité des Dames” is an elaborate confutation of the opinion that women are naturally more immoral and less capable of noble studies or high intellectual attainments than men. In her introduction she says: “I reflected why men are so unanimous in attributing wickedness to women. I examined my own life and those of other women to learn why we should be worse than men, since we also were created by God. I was sitting ashamed with bowed head and eyes blinded with tears, resting my chin on my hands in my elbow-chair, when a dazzling beam of Light flashed before me, which came not from the sun, for it was late in the evening. I glanced up and saw standing before me three female figures wearing crowns of gold, and with radiant countenances. I crossed myself, whereupon one of the three addressed me. 'Fear not, dear daughter, for we will counsel and help thee. The aphorisms of the Philosophers are not Articles of Faith, but simply the mists of error and self-deception.'” The three ladies or goddesses are Fame, Prudence, and Justice, and they command Christine under the supervision of Reason (or Commonsense) to build a city for the noblest and best of her own sex. So the city was begun, and the elect, allegorically, let into it. In varied ranks following one another came goddesses and saintly women, Christian and heathen women—among them walks as leader the Queen of the Amazons. “Queen” Ceres, who taught the art and practice of agriculture. Queen Isis, who first led mankind to the cultivation of plants. Arachne, who invented the arts of dyeing, weaving, flax-growing, and spinning. Damphile, who discovered how to breed silkworms. Queen Tomyris, who vanquished Cyrus. The noble Sulpicia, who shared her husband's exile, and many others, among whom may be seen Dame Sarah, the wife of Abraham, Penelope, Ruth, and the Saints Katharine, Margaret, Lucia, and Dorothea. In the first miniature on the left sits Christine with a coif upon her head and a great book on her lap; on her left hand is the plan of her new city, while opposite stand the three ladies already spoken of as her advisers, furnished with building tools and giving her their advice. On the right she appears again in elegant costume with hewn stones and a trowel assisted by two workmen who are busily at work. Before her is an unfinished wall and several completed towers. In two other miniatures the gradual progress and entire completion of the city are shown, and in the foreground of each Christine and her three patronesses as before. Other examples deserving of extended notice are the Shrewsbury Romances (Roy. 15 E. 6) and Augustine, Cité de Dieu (Roy. 14 D. 1), two great folios, the former most interesting for its miniatures—the latter as a fair example of the rougher kind of Lille work, bold in design, good drawing. The choice of colours includes marone, blue, green, and gold. The ornaments, as usual, consist of sprays of ivy leaf and grounds filled in with treillages of natural flowers, among which are the daisy, viola tricolor, thistle, cornbottle, and wild stock. Fruits and vegetables also, as grapes, field peas, and strawberries. The miniatures include a few rather coarse grisailles.

A little volume (Harl. 2936) contains exquisitely drawn Brugeois scrolls in monochrome on grounds of the same colour or plain gold or black. Lastly we may mention “Les Heures de la Dame de Saluces,” otherwise called the “Yemeniz Hours,” in the British Museum (Add. 27967), a large octavo, as an example of transitional Burgundian. Here the secondary borders have mostly the penwork ivy leaf with Brugeois corners and with strawberries, etc., in the midst of the sprays. Among the foliages grotesque figures frequently appear. The principal pages, however, are more like Harl. 4431, yet without the ivy-leaf tendrils. The miniatures are still Gothic, but richer and deeper in colour than ordinary French work. It would appear that two different artists were employed—one decidedly French, the other Netherlandish, and of a more individual character, still with French accessories. Every page has a border of some kind. Among the flowers the thistle is peculiar in having a golden cup next the down. The work generally resembles, in some parts, 4431 Harl.; in others, and perhaps more strongly, 15 E. 6. The colours are chiefly blue, scarlet, rose-pink, green, and gold.

We have now pretty nearly worked our way into Flemish illumination. The after-history of French as developed through the influence of Italy on the schools of Paris and Tours must have a chapter to itself.