The Prayer Book of Claude de France
The personalized gem of a young queen
New York, The Pierpont Morgan Library, MS M.1166
"An artistic triumph
This is how the enthusiastic manuscript expert Roger S. Wieck describes this charmingly painted manuscript that reached the interest of the public only in 2008 by means of a private donation to the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York. Created around 1517, the Prayer Book of Claude de France is a painted gem, illustrated throughout, one of the most famous manuscripts made for the royal court of France.
A sheer endless image gallery: 132 lively scenes on 104 pages
The personalized prayer book of the French queen Claude de France enchants us especially by its delicate paintings in a charmingly small format of 69x49 mm, and even more so by the unusual wealth of illustration it contains. The namesake master of Claude de France composed a continuous round of full-page and partly even double-page miniatures, surmounted by a small field of text. And even these inscribed areas are now and then cut open to show even more of the picture: a coat flattering wildly in the wind, an emphatic gesture with the arm, or wide landscape vistas to additionally enliven the compositions.
With this trick, the master of Claude de France managed to accommodate 132 lively scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary, the apostles, and various saints!
A personalized coronation gift
Claude de France grew up as the daughter of Anne of Brittany and Louis XII in an environment filled with valuable artefacts: illuminated manuscripts, fine tapestries, paintings, and coins. At the age of 14, in 1514, she married François d'Angoulême, later Francis I and first king of the French Renaissance.
Contemporaries describe Claude de France as a delicate, small woman of sweet temper and generosity. Claude suffered from the pressure of giving her country an heir to the throne throughout her entire life and bore eight children within ten years before she died from exhaustion in 1524.
In 1517 Claude de France is a crowned queen of France. This is an opportunity she takes to ask her favourite artist to produce a prayer book that she would be able to always carry around with her, owing to its small size. Her coat-of-arms appears three times in the manuscript, twice with a golden crown. The personal character of the Prayer Book of Claude de France becomes evident also in the allusions to motherly and domestic happiness and in the use of the cordelière or Franciscan cord, an emblem that Claude inherited from her beloved mother Anne of Brittany.
»The painter's style is one of utmost fineness and delicacy. A subtle range of soft purpels, mauves and roses is applied in tiny, sometimes almost invisible brushstrokes. Especially delicate is the artist's handling of atmospheric perspective with which he both lightens and multiplies the soft colors in the landscapes and cities filling many of the backgrounds.«
Roger S. Wieck
Pierpont Morgan Library
Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci
Not only Claude herself, but also her husband Francis I of France was a significant patron of the arts. His agents in Italy bought works by Michelangelo, Titian and Raffaello, an early nucleus for the later collection of paintings in the Louvre. Francis I ordered the building of the monumental Château de Chambord on the Loire and reconstructed the one of Amboise into a widely admired Renaissance court.
He also invited Leonardo da Vinci to Amboise who spent his retirement there. Francis I had close ties to the Italian polymath, he is said to have shed tears when Leonardo died. One of Leonardo's paintings, the famous `Virgin of the Rocks' (Louvre) must have greatly impressed the Master of Claude de France: one miniature in the Prayer Book of Claude de France is inspired by this work.
The crown jewel of the Rosenberg Collection
Much of the history of the Prayer Book of Claude de France is lost in the mists of time. After World War II it passed into the possession of the Viennese bookseller H.P. Kraus who sold the manuscript to the New York-based collector Alexandre P Rosenberg during the 1970s. Rosenberg considered the book as the crown jewel of his collection. He died in 1987; twenty-one years later his widow Elaine donated the Prayer Book of Claude de France to the Pierpont Morgan Library in loving memory of her husband.
The ex-libris by Pablo Picasso
When opening the manuscript, one is amazed by the small-sized work of a completely different master: an ex-libris with the distinctive stroke of Pablo Picasso! This ex-libris was made especially for Picasso's gallery owner in New York. We know of no other painted manuscript that so charmingly builds a bridge over half a millennium of art history! The edition of the Prayer Book of Claude de France is the only facsimile in the world that carries an ex-libris from the hand of the Spanish master.
The renaissance of a personalized gem: the Prayer Book of Claude de France henceforth only accessible through the facsimile edition
With its thin parchment leaves, the prayer book is so fragile that it will disappear in the air-conditioned safe of the Pierpont Morgan Library for many years. The fine art facsimile edition made in Lucerne is thus the only means of allowing private book lovers to access this picture gallery of the French Renaissance and the perfect occasion to apply the highest standards in making it.
The laborious recreation of colours and of shell gold
Each page is photographed under acrylic glass an additional cost for the treatment of the colours, and still indispensable for the protection of the manuscript. Experienced lithographers then use the final proofs to verify the faithful rendering of the colours in the facsimile leaves on site in New York, recording and correcting even the smallest colour deviations.
A special challenge consists in the faithful rendering of the countless parts of shimmering shell gold that lend each page of the Prayer Book of Claude de France a noble effect. The precious metal cannot be recorded by any shooting technique, so that special colour separations must be produced by hand for each page in a laborious process.
The velvet binding with golden clasps
The leaves are trimmed in accordance with the original and the quires stitched together to form the body of the book. The noble red velvet binding is fastened with two gilded clasps that carry the fleur-de-lis emblem of the French kings. Remainders of a white enamel decoration are then accurately applied by a goldsmith. And eventually the bookbinder carefully writes the unique number of the edition by hand onto the last page of the facsimile volume the final touch on the long way of hand-producing the facsimile volume.