Western and Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures | 06 December 2017

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Lot no.


Gospel Lectionary, Franciscan Use , in Latin


Est: £25000–35000

Gospel Lectionary, Franciscan Use , in Latin, illuminated manuscript on parchment [France (perhaps Avignon), mid-fourteenth century]

172 leaves (plus a parchment endleaf at back), complete, collation: i-xiv12, xv4, catchwords in penwork frames, ruled in ink for single column of 18 lines in a most formal and high-grade bookhand with hairline penstrokes to the end of descenders, one addition added within line-drawn shield shape to margin of fol. 59r, capitals in ornamental penwork and touched in red, rubrics in bright red, 82 pages with large variegated initials in blue or red bars interlocking with brightly burnished gold bars, each introducing major ecclesiastical celebrations, these with text borders of thin gold bars reaching the height of the entire border and encased within red and blue half-leaf shapes and scrolling penwork with cross-hatched fruit and flower heads formed of long stalks ending in three coloured dots, frontispiece with very large and complex initial in same, with decorated text frame extending fully on three upper sides, and reaching diagonally across half the width of the bas-de-page terminating in spear-like shapes, originally blank endleaves at back with neatly written fifteenth-century devotional material (fols. 171v-72r) and a sixteenth-century reading from John opening with a gold initial on burgundy grounds (fol. 173v), slight rubbing to frontispiece and small spots throughout, slightly trimmed with losses to catchwords only, else good condition with wide and clean margins, 345 by 235mm; sixteenth-century binding of blind-stamped calf over wooden boards, with concentric rectangles of floral stamps around a central line of flower heads, all within lines of fillet and further flower heads, front board scuffed and with sections of leather torn away, leather almost completely missing from spine, some worm holes, but solid in binding

This glitteringly illuminated codex is not only a witness to the glorious heights of the French bookarts in the fourteenth century, but also contains significant evidence of one of the least understood professions within the medieval scriptorium, the role of the corrector, who here names himself as “Sy[mon]”


1. Written and illuminated for use in a Franciscan community, perhaps in Avignon: the text opens on fol. 1r with, “Ordo evangelium fratrum minorum secundum consuetudinum romane ecclesie”, and the illumination may well be that of Avignon in the fourteenth century. The form of the illuminated initials here with their precise filigree penwork is known in other major French centres, but the quality here points towards a series of books produced in Avignon by the artist Jacquet Maci (or Mathey, fl. c. 1323-45) and his circle, who began their careers in the first decades of the fourteenth century in attendance of the exiled Papal Curia (see F. Avril in Bulletin Monumental , 129, 1971, pp. 249-64, and A. Dondoine in Scriptorium , 29, 1975, pp. 127-52).

2. An Avignon connection may be significant for the book’s later history as well. The motto “Servire deo regnare est” added in the fifteenth century in excellent calligraphic script to the verso of one of the endleaves at the back, is recorded elsewhere as the device of Pierre de Foix (d. 1490), cardinal of Arles, and son of the count of Carcassone and thus brother to Henri I, king of Navarre (Palliser, Devices, Badges and War Cries , 1870, pp. 104-05). It was used by other late medieval book collectors, but none known to us in France. Pierre de Foix was active in Avignon during the exile of the Pope there, and spent some of his time recovering finely decorated books from the papal library in Peñiscola that had been alienated from Avignon (Delisle, Cabinet des Manuscrits , I, 1868, pp. 494-95). His personal tastes also included such books, and it is recorded that he kept some finely decorated codices recovered from Peñiscola for his own library. He founded the Collège de Foix in Toulouse in 1457, and perhaps significantly was closely enough associated with the Franciscan convent of Cordeliers in Avignon to be buried in its church.

3. Joern Gunther, Brochure 13: Discoveries from the Past , 2013, no. 4.

4. Private Swiss collector, included in Joern Gunther, Parchment and Gold: 25 Years of Dr Jörn Günther Rare Books , Cat. 11, 2015, no. 9.


This large and handsome volume comprises: the Temporale (fols. 1r-129v), and the Sanctorale (fols. 171v-72r), followed by two prayers which were added in the fifteenth century.
Most importantly each gathering ends its last verso with a tiny contemporary inscription in hairline pen: “Corr[ectio] per Sym[one]” (on fols. 12v, 24v, 36v, 48v, 60v, 72v, 84v, 96v, 108v, 120v, 132v, 144v, 156v, 168v), presumably like instructions to illuminators and rubricators to be gently scratched out once the book was finished. The fact that this last finishing touch was overlooked allows us to glimpse something of the arduous work of one of the least understood and studied roles in a professional scriptorium, that of the corrector. In essence, handwritten books have always had a degree of correction, either by the writing master standing over the scribal student, or by later readers with sharp eyes. The reorganisation of scribal work in the University of Paris in the thirteenth century perhaps demanded some systematisation of the role of the corrector, but the phenomenon is not fully brought out into the open in the sources and thus studied until the last years of the fourteenth century and the fifteenth century. The sole study of any length to address this is that of the Rouses, ‘Correction and Emendation of Texts in the Fifteenth Century’, in Scire litteras , 1988, pp. 332-46, and there is also useful comment in M. Hedlund, ‘The Ordinal of the Vadstena Nuns’, Eranos , 79 (1981), pp. 121-36, on the role of certain Vadstena sisters in “perlectus et examinatus” that text, and I. Hedström, ‘Vadstena Abbey and Female Literacy’, in Nun’s Literacies in Medieval Europe , 2014, p. 257, on the roles of the scriptorium specified in the Old Swedish Lucidarium : “the sisters who can write, shall go to write. And those who should ‘over-read’ [owirläsa ], go to correct books”. However, the present manuscript predates all of the material surveyed there by a century, and comes from the period in which French liturgical volumes became monumentally large benchmarks of de luxe book production, a development that must have required intensive checking and correcting. Slow future study of the present codex promises to reveal exactly how intensive Symon’s role had to be, and perhaps whether he also functioned as scribe in the codex.

Western and Oriental Manuscripts and Miniatures

Wednesday 06 December 2017, 2.00pm

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