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Prayerbook of Viglius van Aytta, a senior Habsburg statesman under Emperor Charles V, in Latin, Dutch and French, with a single prayer in Italian, finely illuminated manuscript on vellum
sixteenth century (c. 1516, and 1552-1577)
€100.000 - €125.000

"8vo (160 x 95 mm), 194 leaves (plus 2 original flyleaves at front and 4 at the back), bound too tightly to collate but perhaps wanting single leaves with miniatures before fols. 114 and 122 (opening the Hours of the Cross and of the Holy Spirit), else apparently complete, modern foliation in pen excluding the Calendar leaves at front from that count and skipping a leaf after fol. 17 (but foliation followed here), written in single column of 17 lines of a skilled and professional hybrida hand, with ornamental cadels extending into uppermost borders, capitals decorated with hairline penstrokes, red rubrics, one-line initials in woody twigs in white or brown heightened with liquid gold on red, blue or green grounds, line-fillers in same, eight pages with decorated panels in vertical margins (including naturalistic foliage and more stylised acanthus leaves strewn on coloured grounds, liquid gold chevrons on orange-red grounds probably representing embroidered cloth, an architectural pillar heightened in liquid gold and on red grounds and another multi-coloured pillar enclosing a gilt putto's face and the date '1516'), all of these accompanying historiated initials in both thin liquid-gold foliage on coloured grounds and as small square miniatures within thin gold frames with their initials in liquid gold set in coloured rectangles in their upper right-hand corners, Calendar with full decorated borders with scenes of the occupations for each month with additional scenes depicting aspects of life in the Low Countries in the sixteenth century (see below for full listing), each of these arranged as a double opening with one small roundel in vertical outer border of second page containing the appropriate zodiac symbol, three full-page miniatures in arch-topped frames and within full borders in the Ghent/Bruges style or architectural features and relevant devotional scenes (see below for full listing), these arranged facing text pages with full decorated borders in same, one miniature added after 1552 (probably replacing an earlier miniature), within a realistic wooden frame heightened with liquid gold hairline strokes and also facing a page with full border of Ghent/Bruges style foliage with pearls on red grounds from the earlier campaign of decoration, small spots and stains, and few chips to paint in places and some areas of ink flaking away, slightly trimmed at edges with some losses to extremities of penwork cadels, else in excellent condition. Modern white vellum over thin pasteboards. Text: The volume comprises: a Calendar (unfoliated, but arranged as a series of facing double-page spreads, so this on 13 leaves); prayers opening with the Pater Noster (fol. 1r), and followed by the De Maria gratia plena, the Maria mater gratiae, Mater misericordie, the Credo in deum, the Credo in spiritum sanctum, the Magnificat, the Nunc dimittis, the Ave salus mundi, the In mantis tuas, the Domine pars hereditatis, the Benedicte Dominus, Nos et ea, the De tali convivio benedicamus, the Et introibo ad altare Dei, the Confiteor Deo caeli, the Miscreatur vestri omnipotens, and the Et beata viscera marie; the Passion Readings from the Gospels of John (fol. 8v), Luke (fol. 10r), Matthew (fol. 12r), and Mark (fol. 15r), ending with the prayer Deus qui manus tuas; and followed by further prayers: the Stabat mater (fol. 27r), the Interveniat pro nobis (fol. 29r), the Obsecro te in male form (""famulo tuo"" on fol. 32r), and a prayer of indulgence ascribed to Pope Sixtus (opening ""Ave sanctissima Maria mater dei "", fol. 34r); the Seven Penitential Psalms (fol. 36r), followed by a Litany of Saints and further short prayers; the Office of the Dead (fol. 61r); the Hours of the Cross (fol. 114v) and of the Holy Spirit (fol. 123r); the Seven Prayers of St. Gregory in Dutch (fol. 130r) with occasional Latin rubrics; the Cinq requestes in French (fol. 133r); the ""Oraison tres dolce grant valeur"" in French (that a long prayer opening ""Ire dieu createur "", fol. 136r); a prayer to the Virgin in French (opening ""Glorieuse vierge marie "", fol. 140v); another to the Trinity in French (opening ""Se nom du pere "", fol. 142r), followed by three numbered supplications; two prayers in French to the Virgin (opening ""Glorieuse mere "" and ""Glorieuse vierge marie"", fol. 144v); the Quinze ioyes de notre dame in French (fol. 147v) followed by the 'Ave Maria' prayers to the Virgin in French; the Doulx dieu doulx pere in French (fol. 154r); the Pater Noster in French (fol. 154v), followed by other short French prayers to God (five prayers) and to the Resurrection; the Gospel Readings for the Passion according to the Gospel of John in Latin (fol. 164r), followed by Latin prayers to Christ; the antiphons ""Inter natos mulierum "" (fol. 170v), ""Regina celi letare "" and ""Te invocamus te "" with their versicles, responsories and prayers; the prayer Amputa opprobrium meum (fol. 174v); the seven rules of grace attributed to Pope Innocent (fol. 176v); and ending with two short prayers: the Omnipotens creator eloy and a prayer in Italian against the plague, opening ""Alta regina dela trinita madre "" (fol. 179r). Illumination: The artist of the initial stage of this volume was a close follower of the Master of the First Prayerbook of Maximilan (an illuminator named from a manuscript made for Emperor Maximilan, now Vienna, ÖNB Cod. 1907; that artist now widely believed to be Alexander Bening (d. 1519), and thus the father of the celebrated Simon Bening; see Illuminating the Renaissance: the Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe, 2003, pp. 316-29). Both that master and the artist here employed 'strewn flowers' borders interspersed with 'architectural frame' borders painted to look like carved wooden panels (compare those here with that illustrated in ibid, p. 325; and note also the similar use of liquid gold capitals to pick out inscriptions on decorated pages). More importantly, the present artist owes the style of his narrative scenes filling the borders of his Calendar to the Master of the First Prayerbook of Maximilan's absorption of these from the work of Simon Marmion, as well as some of the individual compositions here. In particular, the Calendar border scenes here show a strong affinity to the same leaves of the celebrated Mayer van den Bergh Breviary, with January a near identical composition (compare that in the bas-de pas here, with that illustrated in ibid., p. 329, as 92g, and note the attribution of this leaf in the Mayer van den Bergh Breviary to the Master of the First Prayerbook of Maximilan himself on p. 327, n. 6), and February showing many common elements. Our artist was probably a member of the workshop of the Master of the First Prayerbook of Maximilan, and seems to have had access to his designs and maquettes"

The significant decoration here comprises: (i-xii) the twelve Calendar scenes, each with two facing scenes in the bas-de-page, with the other borders filled with scenes of interiors, countryside with tall and thin trees and wide blue skies: January: a man warming his feet by the fire and his wife and son place a fish on the table and cut bread, and a peasant chopping up wood and the man and his family stand outside, facing right; February: the cutting of wood and bundling it into staves, all in a forest with a birdhouse; March: the digging and laying out of ornamental gardens before a lore, his lady and her female attendant; April: the herding of sheep and the milking of cows while the nobility take walks in the countryside together; May: a boating party eating at a table set up in the boat as another man paddles, and a hunting party in a wood, with the lord and lady seated together on a horse, he holding a hawk; June: the shearing of sheep and jousting; July: making hay, while two peasants sleep under a tree and another fishes with a rod; August: harvesting corn, while other peasants drink and kiss outdoors; September: ploughing the fields and hunting deer with hounds; October: the sealing up of barrels (probably beer) and the killing of a fattened ox, with one man holding the animal still with a rope around its muzzle looped over the rafters and the other raising a hammer; November: threshing wheat and separating it from the chaff: December: killing a hog and sleigh rides in the snow in an ornamental horse drawn carriage; and the full-page miniatures: (xiii) the additional miniature of Viglius in episcopal regalia kneeling before a prie-dieu, hands raised as God appears in a mandorla in the sky above, all before a wide open grassy area and a medieval town; (xiv) David with his crown next to him, kneeling before a medieval castle as God appears to him in the sky above, the borders filled with scenes of Bathsheba bathing naked as David looks on and Uria with other knights off to war, all as medieval soldiers on horseback and one carrying a tall red pennant with his harp on it; (xv) Christ lifting his hand to point it at Lazarus, as the dead man wakes in his cave-like tomb wrapped in his shroud, all before a host of onlookers and in a medieval hilly landscape, the borders with two scenes making up the image of the Three Living and the Three Dead, here with only two living noblemen on horseback, fleeing as they are pursued by three skeletons, a skull and an inscription picked out in gold in the upright border; (xvi) St. Gregory kneeling with attendants before an altar as Christ appears to him surrounded by the Cross and other objects of the Crucifixion, all within a gothic church interior, the borders in Ghent/Bruges trompe d'oeil style, flecked with liquid gold.
Provenance: 1. This magnificent Renaissance prayerbook was produced in an accomplished Flemish atelier (almost certainly in Bruges) in the years up to 1516 as a commission for a wealthy patron whose arms were covered over with the blue petalled flower with a jewel at its centre in the bas-de-page of the text leaf facing the present ownership miniature of Viglius van Aytta. Those arms were flanked by geometric knots in silver enclosing the initials 'S M', but all that now can be discerned of these arms is from a few shapes left on the recto of the leaf and the dark marks of the silver grounds visible on the verso (these showing that the arms were most probably halved representing the subject's maternal and paternal families: the left with an argent fess, and the right completely argent in its ground). 2. Viglius van Aytta (1507-1577; also Wigle van Aytta): with his arms on a hanging shield added to the border decoration of fol. 2r, as well as to the centre of decorated initials on fol. 5r. At the same time the owner portrait (fol. 1v) was added on space previously left blank at the end of the Calendar (but most probably with an earlier miniature on a singleton removed to make way for this), showing Viglius kneeling in episcopal robes, with a jewelled mitre at his side, before a prie-deux with this book on it and his coat-of-arms on the side, holding up his hands as God appears to him in the sky above.
3. André Hachette (1873-1945), French art collector: this book lot 23 in his auction sale with Libraire Giraud-Badin in Paris in 1953, and acquired there by the Brussels bookdealer, Florimund Tulkens.
4. From Tulkens to a private European collector, and exhibited in the Gruuthusemuseum in Bruges in 1981 (in the exhibition Vlaamse kunst op perkament). Thereafter passing by descent to present owner.
The Patron:
Viglius van Aytta was a member of Emperor Charles V's inner circle and one of the central figures of sixteenth-century European politics. He studied law in Louvain, Dole and Bourges, and came to the attention of Erasmus, before going on to teach at Bourges, Padua and Ingolstadt. In 1542 Charles invited him to join the Council of Mechlin, bringing him to the Burgundian Netherlands, and from their was drawn into Charles' court, going on to serve his son, Philip, as well as Margaret, duchess of Parma, when she acted as regent of the Netherlands. He was both a bookish man as well as philanthropist. As a young man, he composed important legal treatises, one an edition of the Greek paraphrase of the Institutes of the sixth-century Byzantine lawyer Theophilus, and by the 1550s had both a large library of practical works and what was rumoured to be the largest private collection of maps in the Low Countries. In addition, from 1559 he acted as royal librarian to Philip II, who drew his various libraries including the celebrated Burgundian ducal library together in Brussels under Vigilius' watchful eye. Moreover, he used a substantial portion of his wealth for the public good, founding a hospital at Swichum, donating a sandstone gate for the newly built imperial chancellery. Despite his importance and influence, perhaps only two other portraits of Viglius survive; that by Frans Pourbus the elder (now in the Uffizi Gallery), and that by Jacob de Punder (in the Friesmuseum), with all subsequent images in early printed works drawn from the former."