Christine McWebb

title.none: Nash, Between France and Flanders (Christine McWebb)

identifier.other: baj9928.0108.007 01.08.07

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Christine McWebb, University of Alberta,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Nash, Susie. Between France and Flanders: Manuscript Illumination in Amiens in the Fifteenth Century. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999. Pp. 7, 419. 90.00. ISBN: 0-802-04114-0.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.08.07

Nash, Susie. Between France and Flanders: Manuscript Illumination in Amiens in the Fifteenth Century. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999. Pp. 7, 419. 90.00. ISBN: 0-802-04114-0.

Reviewed by:

Christine McWebb
University of Alberta

According to the editors, the goal of the new series the British Library Studies in Medieval Culture is to "promote the study of manuscripts within their broader cultural context..." Moreover, it is stated that "...each volume is heavily illustrated and makes an original and significant contribution to research in its field." Both can certainly be said for Susie Nash's extremely thorough study of manuscript illumination in Northern France at the end of the Middle Ages. With the reproduction of 32 colour plates and 203 black and white images, Susie Nush's work is impressive in its scope and stands as a massive collection of evidence pointing to the cultural wealth of fifteenth century France in general and the court of Burgundy in particular.

Her work fills an important gap in manuscript studies which notoriously lack analyses "devoted to the production of French illuminated manuscripts in a regional centre...." (26) Nash, therefore, proposes to veer away from the more conventional studies defined by certain individuals, such as artists or patrons, or those arranged as exhibition catalogues, as for instance the works by Avril and Reynaud, Les manuscrits a peintures en France, and Plummer, The Last Flowering: French Painting in Manuscripts. The objective of Susie Nash's work, instead, is to analyse the stylistic influences in manuscript illumination within the context of the political, economic, and social situation of fifteenth-century Amiens, as one of the most important cultural centres of Northern France. Thus, she attempts to provide a complete understanding of "how manuscript making was organized in this centre and under what socio-economic conditions these books were produced". (27)

In chapter 1, the author proceeds to explain the various elements influencing the evolution of the book trade in Amiens and Northern France. Her time frame is, as she says, a "short 15th century" (32) ranging approximately from 1410 to 1470, which is justified by the material itself being more abundant from those years, as well as by the author's attempt to zoom in on a historically important moment in the evolution of manuscript illumination, as this art form will dramatically change through the imminent invention of the printing press. Although the description of the socio-historical context is very aptly done, and, although the author subtly moves on to focus on the book trade and the role played by the artisans as such, this chapter is clumsily oversaturated with anecdotal evidence only marginally pertaining to the topic a} hand. The flood of footnotes as well as the exaggeration of evidence and examples makes the reading of this chapter cumbersome, in particular part II "The Arts and Artists in Amiens in the 15th Century". Yet the author does indeed achieve her goal of contextualizing and bringing to life the book culture of this important intellectual centre which was Amiens.

In the following chapter, Nash returns to methodological problems announced already in her introduction, namely localization and dating. After having pointed out repeatedly the difficulty of dealing with specific constraints, such as availability of material, she succeeds in setting up a very rigorous methodology based on Delaisse's studies, "Towards a History of the Medieval Book" and "The Importance of Books of Hours for the History of the Medieval Book". Aware of the enormous quantity of sources to be discussed and theadetails not to be omitted, the author chose to present certain aspects, such as liturgical features in the form of tables and charts, which can be found annexed to the text. Very clearly set up, this peripheral material proves to be extremely helpful for the reader interested in a quick review of differences and similarities of certain illustrations. Furthermore, the annexed catalogue of manuscripts provides a topology of border illumination as well as a detailed schematization of 31 key manuscripts, mainly those books of hours discussed in the work, such as the Arras Hours (Arras, Bibliotheque Municipale, MS540) and the Rambures Hours (Amiens, Bibliotheque Municipale, MS200), to name but a few at random. The manuscripts listed here form the base of discussion of chapter 2 suggesting a fairly high productivity in Amiens during the fifteenth century. The information included for each manuscript ranges from page layouts, scripts, composition, and liturgical evidence to a description of border decorations, miniatures, binding, and provenance, as well as including a concise bibliography discussing the manuscript in question. This is followed by eight tables referring to specific chapters, a model calendar for manuscripts from the Amiens artistic centre, an extensive bibliography, an index of manuscripts cited, and, last but not least, a general index.

Subsequently, Nash turns to the core of her study which is the discussion of the local Amiens style itself. In Chapter 3, she justifies very convincingly the key role played by the d'Ailly Master in the shaping of a style pertaining specifically to the book trade in Amiens. This evidence is supported by a minute discussion of various books of hours (such as the London Hours and the Small Brussels Hours) produced by Raoul d'Ailly and his associates. Rather than simply pointing to the similarities between these miniatures, Nash also formulates hypotheses describing the broader influences on illumination at Amiens such as those of Flemish panel painting. Nash aptly concludes that the d'Ailly Master must have been part of a workshop, where future generations of artists were trained, reproducing and modifying his style.

Once this argument is established, the author is then able to identify in Chapter 5 the precursors of d'Ailly's school from the beginning of the century to 1430. Despite the scarcity of extent material dating from the early fifteenth century, Nash successfully establishes the existence of a previous artistic school, surrounding the Fitzwilliam Master, which, in all likelihood, influenced the later d'Ailly workshop. This hypothesis is supported by ample pictural evidence. Although the author is forced to speculate about certain events, such as the existence and the scope of a possible relationship and contact between the two abovementioned workshops (150-62), Nash provides a very coherent argument informed by the socio- economic circumstances of contemporary Amiens. It further should be pointed out that in this chapter ynd elsehere Nash convincingly revises certain arguments made for instance by Delaisse (155) and Plummer (228), and thus brings new insight to the topic of French manuscript illumination.

The last two chapters, Chapters 6 and 7 provide examples of possible and plausible movements of immigration and emigration to and from Amiens. Based on stylistic resemblances in several books of hours (such as the visitation scene in the Fauquier Hours (ex-London, Sotheby's, 18th June 1962, lot 122, f.44) and Le Rat Hours (Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery, MS262, f.27), the author attempts to establish links to Amiens. Due to the lack of factusl evidence, these two chapters, although extremely densely illustrated and minutely researched, can merely present a hypothetical speculation on the migration movement by artists with the exception of the illuminator Andre d'Ypres who emigrated from Amiens to Tournai and Paris, and whose migration is a documented fact. The conclusion, although very brief, is to the point and adequately summarizes the essential contributions of the book.

If one critical comment is to be made, it would be the limitation of the corpus to liturgical evidence, touching only marginally on secular texts, as Nash does in the last chapter (230-35). In general, however, Nash succeeds in offering the reader ample insight into the book trade and book illumination of the first 70 years of the fifteenth century in and around Amiens. The cohesive presentation and the well-structured peripheral material make Nash's work accessible for specialists and non-specialists alike, thus representing an invaluable source for further research in this field.