The Medieval Review 13.02.06

Bovey, Alixe. Jean de Carpentin's Book of Hours: The Genius of the Master of the Dresden Prayer Book. London: Paul Holberton Publishing, 2011. Pp. 248. $75.00. ISBN: 9781903470954. . .

Reviewed by:

Margaret Goehring
New Mexico State University

Among the illuminators active in the Ghent-Bruges region at the end of the fifteenth century, the Master of the Dresden Prayerbook is one of the most fascinating, because of his inventive and often ingenious approach to book decoration. Published here in its entirety for the first time, the Hours of Jean de Carpentin, currently owned by the London art dealer, Sam Fogg, is no exception. Surprisingly few scholars have studied this artist since Friedrich Winkler first identified him in 1913, and this book is a welcome follow-up to Bodo Brinkman's magisterial monograph of 1997 and Thomas Kren's research for the Illuminating the Renaissance exhibition catalog of 2003. While Brinkmann and Kren both knew the manuscript, study of it remained limited as its ownership was disputed for much of the second half of the twentieth century. In 2007, this was resolved, paving the way for a thorough introduction to this superb manuscript.

James Marrow, professor emeritus of Princeton University and one of the first specialists to examine the manuscript, wrote the book's preface in which he outlines what makes this book so exceptional. Containing a calendar, the Hours of the Virgin, the Hours of the Passion and the (long) Hours of the Holy Spirit, psalms and litany, as well as suffrages and the Office of the Dead, in many ways this book resembles hundreds of other books of hours produced in Flanders at the end of the fifteenth century. However, it is far from being a standard Flemish product. Although the presumed patron, Jean de Carpentin (d. 1501), whose arms and portrait appear in the manuscript, came from Abbeville in the diocese of Amiens, the calendar for this book points to Rouen, whereas the Hours of the Virgin is of a completely unique and unknown use, and the Office of the Dead follows Dominican usage. Additionally, the Hours of the Virgin was originally prefaced by two double-page painted "diptychs" (one set of which has since been moved). The first "diptych" shows the praying donor in the border of the Crucifixion with the Lamentation on the facing recto. While numerous manuscript diptychs with donor portraits survive, this is the only known example of this particular combination of subjects. The second "diptych" shows iconic, bust-length images of John the Baptist and Christ. Marrow presents an illuminating discussion of the implications of these four folios, showing how they would have offered the patron highly sophisticated and complex connections between theological ideas and devotional interaction. This level of sophistication is also found in the borders, which tend to support the subjects of the miniatures and/or texts by drawing from an extensive knowledge of typology and scriptural narrative. Marrow concludes that these unusual features point not only to an extremely creative artist, but also suggest that the patron (along with a Dominican theological advisor?) was deeply involved with the manufacture of this manuscript.

The rest of the book, written by Bovey, offers an analysis of the manuscript. In Chapter 1 she identifies its texts more fully and situates the manuscript stylistically in Bruges in the first half of the 1470s. However, as she rightly points out, the formatting, script and layout of the text block are more closely associated to French practices. She also describes the book's beautiful niello clasps and fittings, which were altered and inscribed with the date of 1553 when the manuscript was rebound for another member of the Carpentin family, the identity of whom has not fully been determined.

In Chapter 2 Bovey discusses the manuscript within the oeuvre of the Dresden Master, who, for the purposes of this study she assumes to be one individual. Drawing largely from the scholarship of Brinkmann and Kren, she places the Carpentin Hours at the early end of the Dresden Master's career--comparable to the Hours of Charlotte de Bourbon- Montpensier at Alnwick Castle, a book of hours in the Salting Collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum (ms. 1221), and the Hours of Colard Pingret (Brussels, Royal Library ms. II 7604)--and one of the first manuscripts in which he took a leading role. Bovey identifies the escutcheons and other heraldic devices found throughout the manuscript, showing that while they originally pointed to Jean (II) de Carpentin, the manuscript's original patron, they were altered when the book was reworked in the early years of the sixteenth century for its next owner, Jean III de Carpentin (d. 1544). It was also at this time that a fold-out armorial was added (fol. Vv).

The decorations are the focus of Chapter 3. This book of hours is particularly lavishly decorated, comparable to the most luxurious books produced for the members of the Burgundian court at this time, perhaps indicating the patron's level of ambition and claim to status. While the iconography of most of the miniatures is relatively standard (though displaying an elevated and unusual level of detail), it is in the borders and historiated initials that the Dresden Master's particular genius for amplifying thematic connections between image and text becomes apparent. The imagery invokes a range of allegorical, typological, and narrative themes, which points to one of the most fascinating aspects of this manuscript: the level of intellectual and devotional interaction required of the reader.

Indeed, it is in this area that more analysis could have been done. Further fruitful research could be made in regards to the Dresden Master's vernacular references in the borders. For example, the image of the peasant collecting donkey dung (fol. 197r) actually corresponds to a well-known proverb, "Horse droppings are no figs [Paardenkeutels zijn geen vijgen]." Similarly, the image of Phyllis and Aristotle (fol. 198r) recounts a legend that first appeared in the early thirteenth century and was popularly regarded as a warning against the power of women. While this was a well-known motif by the time the Dresden Master painted it, it is perhaps significant that the first extant text in which Aristotle's name was specifically mentioned in connection to this legend is an early fifteenth-century collection of exemplaria, the Promptuarium exemplorum, by a Dominican preacher, Johannes Herolt.

The final chapter covers the complex question of the Carpentin Hour's twentieth-century provenance, which was at the center of the court case involving the competing claims of Wildenstein & Co. and the heirs of Alphonse Kann (Warin v. Wildenstein). This is where Bovey is at her most analytical, as she reviews the numerous inventories and documents relating to the manuscript's whereabouts during World War II, when the Nazis confiscated it.

The book concludes with a set of appendices including full codicological descriptions, quire diagrams, content lists and transcriptions, as well as useful indices. Accompanied by a full complement of color plates, offering both full views of all the decorated pages in the manuscript as well as numerous details that allow readers to fully appreciate the Dresden Master's artistry, this handsome and beautifully produced book will appeal to both scholars as well as to those with more general interests.