The Prayer Book of Claude de France

The Personal Gem of a Young Queen

The exquisite Prayer Book of Claude de France is a small manuscript of great charm. High-quality book illumination on a very small scale entices the viewer into the wonderful world of French Renaissance imagery at the beginning of the 16th century.
“The style of the Master of Claude de France can be characterized as the pinnacle of subtlety. He applies a delicate palette of soft purple, mauve and pink hues in tiny, seemingly invisible brushstrokes. The artist is especially skilful in using pale hues to create atmospheric depth in the landscapes and cityscapes of the background.” (Roger S. Wieck, Curator of Manuscripts in The Morgan Library & Museum, New York)

Gebetbuch der Claude de France

The Prayer Book of Claude de France: The Manuscript

Gebetbuch der Claude de France, fol. 40v

A Picture Gallery by a Master Hand

The small Prayer Book of Claude de France stands out for its delicate painting and, above all, for its unusual wealth of images. On 104 pages it contains 132 miniatures depicting scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary, and also of the Apostles and various saints. The Master of Claude de France employed an ingenious page design to compose a continuous series of full-page and sometimes even double-page miniatures with a small text panel superimposed on the pictures. And even within these text panels he sometimes integrated small pictures with half-length figures. In a number of cases, the picture space is extended into rectangular indentations in the text panels.

Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci

Claude de France and her royal consort were significant patrons of the arts. In Italy, their agents bought works by Michelangelo, Titian and Raphael, which laid the foundation for the collection of paintings in the Louvre. The royal Chȃteau at Amboise on the Loire River was expanded and turned into a much admired Renaissance palace. Leonardo da Vinci entered the service of King Francis and spent his last two years in the nearby manor house of Clos-Lucé. Leonardo’s painting “Virgin of the Rocks” seems to have made a strong impression on the Master of Claude France. A miniature (fol. 15v) in the Prayer Book of Claude de France is obviously inspired by that painting.

A Very Personal Gift

Three years after Claude de France was married to the Count of Angoulȇme who later became King Francis I, she was crowned Queen of France in 1517. As a gift to herself on this festive occasion, she engaged her favourite artist to produce a prayer book which would be so small that she could always carry it with her. In this tiny manuscript, her coat of arms appears on three different folios, twice surmounted by the royal crown. The Prayer Book of Claude de France had a personal meaning for the gentle queen, as is apparent in the scenes referring to the joy of motherhood and family life or in the knotted Franciscan Cord framing the miniatures.

Wappen im Gebetbuch der Claude de France, fol. 18v

Gebetbuch der Claude de France

Under the Magnifying Glass: Brushwork Applied with Artistry

Gebetbuch der Claude de France, fol. 2v
In the Prayer Book of Claude de France, the book illuminator created images with a very special charm by applying the finest colour shading and gold highlights with great virtuosity. His technique of using very fine brushstrokes amplifies the closed format given by the small size of the miniatures. The gossamer-like brushstrokes create the subject matter in the eye of the attentive viewer at the very instant he looks at the picture. The effect captured by this technique would even fascinate people several centuries later since it anticipated the phenomenon seen in impressionist paintings. Using this technique in book illumination, the Master of Claude de France attained the height of perfection.
On fol.2v the Evangelist Luke is depicted as a painter. In the lower margin Luke is painting the Virgin Mary who – according to medieval thought – is actually posing for his picture. In the background of the scene we see a writing table with an ink well and also the ox as the symbol of the Evangelist Luke. On a shelf are some books and a few globular glass bulbs referring to Luke as the patron saint of doctors. In the upper left of the picture, St. Luke is depicted preaching to a large crowd. The small rectangular miniature within the text field represents him as the traditional author of his Gospel, seated in a scriptorium. The open book-case at the back refers to his great learning.

Gebetbuch der Claude de France

The Prayer Book of Claude de France: The Edition

Gebetbuch der Claude de France, Faksimile-Edition, Band stehend und aufgeschlagen

The Manuscript and the Facsimile at a Glance

It is indeed not only the small size of the Prayer Book of Claude de France but also the artistic quality of the miniatures, anticipating the style of impressionist paintings, which attracts the attention of the viewer. Meticulously reproducing every fine brush stroke of these wonderful paintings, the facsimile edition fascinates the viewer as much as the original, which continues to be inaccessible to the public.

Manuscript: New York, Morgan Library & Museum, MS M.1166
Date of Origin: about 1517
Place of Origin: Tours
Dimensions: c. 6.9 x 4.9 cm
Extent: 104 pages (52 leaves)
Artist: Master of Claude de France
Patroness: Claude de France, Queen of France
Illumination: full-page and double-page miniatures with 132 scenes, numerous areas in shimmering shell gold, very fine colour shading, gilt edges, bookplate designed by Pablo Picasso
Binding: red velvet with golden clasps
Commentary Volume of the Edition by Roger S. Wieck / Cynthia J. Brown
Print run: 980 copies

Gebetbuch der Claude de France

Enjoy Viewing 10 Sample Pages:

A Glance at the Facsimile

The sequence here selected from the Prayer Book of Claude de France begins with fol. 26v and a representation of the Holy Spirit as a Dove, surrounded by several circles of coloured light. Up to fol. 31r it is followed by full-page miniatures placed beside and below the text panel, depicting various saints in a lively scene. They are: Veronica, Amadour, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, Peter and Paul, James and Andrew. On fol. 28r the Archangel Michael is fighting the dragon.

Gebetbuch der Claude de France

A Challenging Production: fac simile

Gebetbuch der Claude de France, Andruckvergleich mit dem Original unter Plexiglas

Special Precautions

Since the thin parchment pages of the Prayer Book of Claude de France are very fragile, the manuscript will continue to be stored in the air-conditioned safes of the Pierpont Morgan Library for years to come, inaccessible to the public. It is therefore particularly important to maintain the highest standards in producing the facsimile. The first step is to take a digital photograph of each page at the library where the delicate illuminated manuscript is kept. The pages are protected by an acrylic plastic sheet when the photographs are taken, and also when the prints are later compared with the original. Though requiring an additional amount of work, this is an indispensable precaution for protecting the manuscript.

With a Steady Hand

After the print runs have been carefully monitored and approved, the work of the bookbinder is still mostly carried out by hand, as tried and tested for hundreds of years. The print sheets are trimmed to the size of the original, and the book-block is formed by sewing the individual sections. Subsequently, edge gilding is applied to the three edges of the book-block, and the embroidered two-coloured headband is attached.
The exquisite red velvet covering the book is fastened by two golden clasps bearing the heraldic fleurs-de-lis of the French monarchy. Traces of white enamel visible on the clasps are applied with a steady hand by a goldsmith.

Gebetbuch der Claude de France, Goldschnitt und Umstechen des Kapitalsbands
Gebetbuch der Claude de France, Auftragen von Resten der Emaillierung auf die vergoldeten Schließen

Gebetbuch der Claude de France

The Facsimile Folder for the Edition

Gebetbuch der Claude de France, Faksimilemappe zur Edition
The facsimile of the Prayer Book of Claude de France is exceptional for its high quality in faithfully reproducing the gold and the colours of the delicate paintings. To give you a firsthand impression, Quaternio Editions Lucerne has produced a high quality facsimile folder. The folder contains two original facsimile double pages comprising eight miniatures in all. They depict the Penitent Jerome, St. Hubert with the legendary stag, John the Baptist and John the Evangelist. The miniatures are explained in detailed captions. In a richly illustrated 12-page brochure, learn more about the art of painting, and the illumination and history of the manuscript.

Gebetbuch der Claude de France

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