The Artists: The Giac Master and the Boethius Master, illuminators of the warBy Inès Villela-Petit and (tr. Keira Borrill)
Please cite as: Inès Villela-Petit, ‘The Artists: The Giac Master and the Boethius Master, illuminators of the war’, transl. by Keira Borrill, in The Online Froissart, ed. by Peter Ainsworth and Godfried Croenen, v. 1.5 (Sheffield: HRIOnline, 2013), http://www.dhi.ac.uk/onlinefroissart/apparatus.jsp?type=intros&intro=f.intros.IVP-Artists, first published in v. 1.0 (2010).
A high-quality medieval book would not have been complete without illuminations. Copies of Froissart’s Chronicles produced under the direction of Parisian bookseller Pierre de Liffol do not deviate from this rule. They are adorned with decorated initials, vine branches and images illustrating different episodes from the text. These elements, the initials and vine branch arabesques on the one hand, and the images on the other, represent two distinct branches of the illuminator’s craft, namely decoration and illustration. The same craftsman could undertake both, but it would seem that in Paris during the early decades of the fifteenth century, production requirements and the abundance of commissions led to specialisation. Certain illuminators worked only as ornamentors, as did Anastasia, an illuminator or limmer mentioned by Christine de Pizan; whilst others reserved themselves for ‘historiated’ (broadly speaking: storytelling, pictorial or narrative) images. We might call them historiation illuminators, or simply painters. In fact, certain panel painters also devoted themselves to illustrative illumination of this kind.
The illuminators became involved quite late on in the bookmaking process. The folios were entrusted to them once the text had been copied, which partly determined the methods and limits of their contribution. The programme of illustration, in other words the number of images and their respective subjects, was established in advance by the bookseller according to whatever the patron might wish to see depicted. The illuminators, who would hardly have had time to read the Chronicles in their entirety, had therefore to rely on some form of instructions to carry out their work. We have for example, under the name ‘Histoires’ sur Salluste (‘Illustrations’ to Sallust), a notebook compiled by the humanist Jean Lebègue and intended for the use of the illuminators whom he had charged with the task of illustrating copies of this classic of Latin literature. The scenes are here described in the vernacular (French); their location in the text is indicated by means of the first few words of the corresponding chapter, and further details are provided for correcting any errors of interpretation that the illuminators might have made. In other cases, they might have been given a manuscript to copy which had already been illustrated, or provided with a pattern book containing models to follow. Very often, however, such instructions were found directly on a manuscript already under production, in the form of a brief description of the scene or a schematic drawing referring to a scene-type, generally situated in the bottom margin of the page to be illustrated. These margin annotations made in dry point by the copyist were not supposed to survive. Once the illumination was complete, they were conscientiously erased. However, several manuscripts, and in particular the Stonyhurst and Toulouse Froissarts, preserve, over and above some signs of erasure due to abrasion, the remnants of written instructions such as ‘Soit ycy ...’ [‘Let there be here ...’] (Stonyhurst, fol. 151), or the more obvious: ‘Une bataille à ...’ [‘a battle at/with...’] (fol. 303v) and the following three-line description: ‘Un chastel & gens qui sont aux creneaux & gens venans qui l’asse... sont en bataille’ [‘a castle with men on the battlements and men approaching in battle formation’] (fol. 82). Similarly, in the Toulouse manuscript we can still make out the word ‘Poitiers’ in the margin of the scene depicting the battle of Poitiers (fol. 128).
In addition, when an illuminator took on a manuscript, even the size and location of the images were predetermined by the blank spaces set aside in the text by the copyist. Similarly, in the case of the ornamentors the height of the decorated initials was fixed, and a small ‘guide letter’ left for their benefit during the copy work to tell them which initial they should produce. Thus the production of a book involved teamwork, in which bookseller, copyist and illuminator collaborated with one another, whereas today we have a tendency to attribute value to images out of their context of production. Amongst the illuminators, it was the ornamentors who would have contributed first. In fact, their work mostly supplemented that of the copyist, since they added the missing letters. The function of the decorated initials, and the flourishes or arabesques which embellished them, was not only aesthetic. They also served to clarify the division of the text into books and chapters, using coloured letters, to draw the eye. Their dimensions and richness also carried meaning; the biggest and most decorated letters emphasised major textual openings, and the smaller, plainer ones, minor openings. On the frontispiece page, the parchment is not left bare around the block of text and image, instead it is given a more or less blanketing border which highlights the beginning of the book and matches the initials. To do this, the Parisian ornamentors used an elegant stylistic ‘vocabulary’ which tradition had fashioned over a long period of time into two parallel decorative styles: ivyleaf and filigree.
Ivyleaf, which appeared in Parisian illumination before 1300, consists of branches of a kind of climbing vine which shoot from the initials or the bars acting as a frame for the frontispiece page, and spread out across the margins (see Michel de Laillier’s Froissart, Brussels, MS IV 251, and that of Charles de Savoisy, BnF, MS fr. 2662). Two types exist, evidently well codified since their characteristics remain constant. These are stem ivyleaf, in which pinkish red, blue and gold leaves alternate, with sprays, also serving to fill the inside of initials, and line ivyleaf, where the stem is a simple stroke of black ink with gold leaves alternating with tendrils associated with small gold roundels. The foliage consists of large engrailed leaves, young trefoiled leaves, and occasionally almond-shaped leaves. It is embellished with fleurons (flower or petal motifs), palmettes (palm leaves), tiny stylised floral motifs and sometimes naturalistic flowers (floral ivyleaf), grotesques, hybrids, and small birds (inhabited ivyleaf), or even Italian acanthus, which certain Parisian ornamentors adopted around 1405-1410 and integrated into their ivyleaf (Brussels, MS II 88, London Add MSS 38658-38659). The frontispiece of Tanguy du Chastel’s Froissart, for example, is decorated with an elegant border consisting of a fluid line with leaves and fleurons of coloured acanthus and line ivyleaf with small floral motifs (BnF, MS fr. 2663, fol. 6). The revival of ornamental vernacular which coincides with the introduction of the acanthus leaf produced an especially rich type of composite, of which the Stonyhurst manuscript is an example. Other manuscripts completely abandoned ivyleaf in favour of the acanthus on its own, or a free composition of foliate stems inspired by the acanthus, with an heraldic element. This is the case with the Froissart manuscript made for a member of the Luxembourg family (The Hague), decorated with delicate inhabited acanthus, and that of Pierre de Fontenay (Morgan Library). In the latter the shield, Moor’s head crest, angel supporter and motto ‘nulle autre’ [‘no other lady’] of the patron are combined with the branches to form a comprehensively heraldic border.
Five groups of Froissart manuscripts can be distinguished according to the composition of their borders and the style of ivyleaf used, in particular on the frontispiece page. Group A (Brussels, MS IV 251, Paris BnF, MS fr. 2662 and Toulouse MS 511) are characterised by a traditional decoration of stem or line ivyleaf and palmette ornament wrapped around the framing bars. Group B, consisting of twin manuscripts Besançon 864-865 and Paris BnF, MSS fr. 2663-2664 display more modern borders of line ivyleaf and acanthus. Another manuscript (Brussels, MS II, 88), C, is very close to the previous two in terms of its highly foliate ivyleaf and winding acanthus inhabited by little men-at-arms. Group D (Stonyhurst MS 1, BnF, MSS fr. 2675-2676 and London, BL, Add. MSS 38658-38659) tends towards a combination: foliate ivyleaf, acanthus, naturalistic flowers, and Solomon’s knots. The Hague and Morgan manuscripts provide our final group. Pierre de Fontenay’s copy, moreover, in which the initials bear the patron’s arms, constitutes a kind of armorial of Froissart’s Chronicles. In this case, heraldry prevails over decoration. The banners appearing in the images are inordinately large and have a tendency to rise out of the frame (for example at fol. 101v, representing the battle of Crécy), whereas other banners painted in the margins repeat or complete these, facilitating immediate recognition of the principal protagonists in the narrative.
Meanwhile, in the second volume of the Besançon Froissart (MS 865) and in the Tanguy du Chastel copy (BnF, MS fr. 2663-2664), with the exception of the frontispiece, another traditional method of ornamentation can be found: filigree decoration. This style appeared before 1200 and hinges on the initial alone. It is more airy than ivyleaf since it does not, strictly speaking, form a border. It consists of a part-coloured letter, also known today as a puzzle letter, invariably painted in blue and (usually) burnished gold, with filigree decoration in black and red ink forming shoots, loops or clusters of tiny pointed roundels known as frogspawn. Sometimes combined with this delicate calligraphic work are vertical bands composed of half fleur-de-lys motifs alternating in blue and gold, or ‘J bands’ similarly alternating. Curiously, Paris BnF MS fr. 2675 combines these bands of filigreed half fleur-de-lys motifs with ivyleaf borders and initial letters. This is a combination also found in the borders of the second volume, Paris BnF, MS fr. 2676, done by the same ornamentor, though it is an exception. Occasionally initials with ivyleaf component, and filigreed initials, are used in the same manuscript to complete the hierarchical system resulting from the use of different styles of decorated initials. The filigreed initials are in this case subordinated to the ivyleaf ones. This is not the case in the Froissart manuscripts. The stem ivyleaf initials of the first Besançon volume are equivalent to the filigreed initials of the second volume. However, as the filigree style was not intended to fill the borders, the frontispiece of an otherwise fully filigreed example, such as that of Tanguy du Chastel, was furnished with stem ivyleaf and acanthus decoration.
This page is set apart from the rest of the manuscript not only due to its decoration but also to the hand of the historiating illuminator who produced the frontispiece image and whose contribution can only be found in the Froissart manuscripts on one other occasion. In fact, he could have been responsible for some of the illuminations of Paris BnF MSS fr. 2675-2676, completed in the second quarter of the fifteenth century, judging from the costume. This Master of the Harvard Hannibal, so-named after the miniature of the Coronation of Hannibal in a manuscript of Livy (Harvard, MS Richardson 32), is a still little-known illuminator who began his career in Paris around 1415, worked for the English between 1420 and 1430, and ended his career in Rouen. His hand has been identified in around twenty manuscripts, half of them books of hours, and the other half historical, philosophical and moral texts (Cité de Dieu [‘The City of God’] by Saint Augustine, Dits moraulx des philosophes [‘The Dicts and Sayings of the Philosophers’] by Guillaume de Tignonville, De cleres et nobles femmes [‘On famous women’] by Boccaccio, and even the Liber peregrinationis anime [‘Pilgrimage of the Life of the Soul’] by Jean Galopes, transcribed by the Parisian copyist Jean Thomas in 1427 and dedicated to the Duke of Bedford, then regent of France on behalf of Henry VI (London, Lambeth Palace MS 326). His contribution is often limited, as in the Livy manuscript and in Froissart BnF, fr. 2663, in which he is only responsible for a single illumination. The strong features and often pointed noses which characterise his faces are recognisable in the two presentation scenes of the frontispiece (fol. 6), which display a chiastic inversion: Froissart presenting his book to the King of England and Queen Isabella presenting her son to the King of France. Beneath, the drawbridge and crenellated ramparts in the scene of the siege of Bristol (1326) bear witness to his interest in drawing architectural features. BnF, fr. 2675-2676 is more variegated, being the product of several different hands; but it is possible to recognise that of the Master of the Harvard Hannibal in scenes such as the coronation of Philippa of Hainaut (fr. 2675, fol. 27), with its acutely observed and fashioned faces, and the remarkable coronation of Jean II le Bon (fol. 176) where the artist again displays his talent for depicting architecture.
Much more involved in the production of Froissart manuscripts, however, are the two illuminators connected with the Harvard Hannibal Master in the Tanguy du Chastel example: the Giac Master and the Boethius Master. Between around 1410 and 1420, they illuminated more than a dozen Froissart manuscripts between them. Irrespective of the volumes we lack which might permit us to judge the entirety of this production, managed at least in part by librarius Pierre de Liffol, the Giac Master seems to have been the more prolific of the two illuminators concerned. He was responsible for the illustrations to the Froissart done for Michel de Laillier, conseiller à la Chambre des Comptes (Bruxelles, ms. IV 251), Toulouse Municipal Library MS 511, the manuscript of the Burgundian Charles de Savoisy, the king’s chamberlain (BnF, fr. 2662), the first Besançon volume (MS 864) and the second volume of the Tanguy du Chastel Froissart (BnF, fr. 2664), and the Brussels copy (BR, ms. II 88) in which the initials on folios 1, 12 and 14 were awaiting heraldic arms; folio 1 still bears the outline of an erased shield (perhaps gules, three bar-gemels argent, the arms of the Fosseux family from the Artois region, who were close to John the Fearless, duke of Burgundy), Stonyhurst MS 1, and London, BL Add. 38658-38659), the latter being destined for Jean de Roubaix, a Fleming (also of the Burgundian Party). Attributed to the Boethius Master are: the second Besançon volume (MS 865), the first Tanguy du Chastel volume (BnF, fr. 2663), apart that is from the frontispiece, the copy done for Pierre de Fontenay, seigneur de Rance, head steward at the court of John the Fearless, now at the Morgan Library in New York, London, BL Arundel MS 67 (Book I, two miniatures only surviving), and BnF fr. 2649.
The Giac Master, often assigned to the Rohan Master’s workshop, was in fact the latter’s predecessor. Undoubtedly a native of Troyes in Champagne, where he first practised his profession for a local clientele, he settled in Paris between 1415 and 1420 and later moved on to Anjou. A very prolific illuminator (around forty manuscripts are attributed to him), he specialised in books of hours, around twenty in all, one of which is the Hours of Jeanne du Peschin, dame de Giac, now at the Royal Ontario Museum of Toronto. These works can be almost equally divided between hours for Troyes use and hours for Paris use. The rest of his output constitutes, notably, two copies of the Faits des Romains [‘The History of the Acts and Sayings of the Romans’] by Valerius Maximus, two of Boccaccio’s Cas des nobles hommes, one of which was destined for John, Duke of Berry (died 1416), the other for the dauphin d’Auvergne Béraud III (died 1426), two illustrated bibles or Bibles historiales, a Livre de la chasse [‘Book of the Hunt’] bearing the arms of the dauphin Louis de Guyenne (died 1415), a Livre des propriétés des choses [‘On the Properties of Things’] by Bartolomaeus Anglicus, and the eight Froissart manuscripts!
The manuscript of the Chronicles bearing the arms of Michel de Laillier (Brussels IV 251), a Parisian money changer and goldsmith who in 1410 became master of the Chambre des Comptes (Exchequer), is at least a decade older than the fine book of hours commissioned by this significant figure from an Italian illuminator passing through Paris (the Heures dites de Cordier de Bignan, Oxford, Bodleian Library, ms. Douce 62). His arms adorn several of the initial letters, even though the device of two dogs supporting a green tree, depicted in his book of hours, is not found in either of the two volumes of Brussels Royal Library MS IV 251. Illustrated in its entirety by the Giac Master, this is undoubtedly one of the first Froissart manuscripts in the series. The quadripartite composition of the frontispiece (fol. 1) would subsequently be repeated almost exactly (British Library, Add. MS 38658, fol. 1). The Giac Master took great care with it. The ground is minutely flecked with green and brown, enlivened with clusters of tiny red-and-white flowers on dark stems; the backgrounds are sometimes composed of fine mosaics, sometimes painted pinkish red or blue and set in a grid of black and gold lines with small filler motifs in gold, such as quatrefoils or fleur-de-lys. The houppelandes or flowing gowns worn by the figures in the paintings are coloured red-orange, royal blue, golden brown, dull green, rose or (regrettably tarnished) silver. The translucency of the canon’s fur shoulder cape or almuce is delicately rendered, and the details of aristocratic dress such as fringes, doublets and fur collars, are drawn with refinement. Other features typical of the illuminator are the moon faces of these characters with their modelled pinkish-brown complexions and elongated bodies. Where a group of soldiery is depicted, a pale blue tint used for the front row merges into a darker ultramarine towards the rear, suggesting real metal. There is once again a propensity shown for making banners protrude beyond the bounds of the image frame, similarly with details of buildings (castle towers, roofs, or the spire of the cathedral at Rheims: coronation of Jean II (le Bon) in 1350), as well as a clear predilection for symmetrical compositions, for example the naval battle led by Robert of Artois against the Genoese off the coast of Guernsey in 1342 (fol. 109v). Another translucent effect is the water, with its continuous ripples evoked by white and grey-black strokes over a bluish-grey background, hinting at the presence of the hulls of the ships. The corrections between the mise-en-place underdrawing, visible through the clear pictorial layers, and the final painting, seen as much in the frontispiece as in the architecture of the pink castle from the siege scene depicting the wars of Brittany (fol. 80), attest to the illuminator’s hesitation in the course of producing the manuscript, and would tend to support the view that it predates the manuscripts in which he has tended to repeat preconceived compositions or scene types.
The BnF, fr. 2662 manuscript presents an abbreviated version of the frontispiece, reduced to two scenes very similar to their equivalents in the Michel de Laillier manuscript: the presentation of the book and the visit of Isabella of France (fol. 1). The heavy chains overloading the margins are most likely a device of the chamberlain Charles de Savoisy (died 1420), and the arms of his wife Yolande de Rodemach point to a date after their marriage in 1410. Here the illuminator makes extensive use of his symmetrical compositions, the best example of which is certainly the great battle of Crécy (fol. 150v). The French and English are arranged in similar fashion, archers on foot in the foreground and mounted knights in the background, forming tight rows of helmets which tell of the large number of combatants. Only the diverse colours of the heraldic surcoats and banners of the kings and princes, and the Oriflamme unfurled above the French, disrupt this precise axial symmetry. Such principles can also be found in combat scenes between foot soldiers (fol. 102 for Guernsey, 172v, 235v, 292, etc.), where troops with the same weaponry and numbers confront each other. The illuminator is not attempting to depict a particular battle so much as the idea of battle, only the armorial bearings serving to specify which battle it is. In addition, in large illuminations reserved for the most famous battles, and spanning two columns of text, there is nothing reminiscent of the precise location of the events or the landscape: after Crécy (1346), we have Maupertuis or Poitiers (1356) with Oriflamme fluttering in the wind (fol. 196v), Cocherel (1364) (fol. 283v), and Najera in Spain (1367) (fol. 315). In other words, heraldry is the only means of contextualisation.
Toulouse MS 511 also presents a reduced frontispiece. This time, however, the two scenes are separated by an ornamental interlace. The pattern of the King of France receiving Isabella has been inverted, with the queen and her son now to the right of the composition, and the arrangement of those in attendance modified. The delicate page border is decorated with knots on a gold ground and with a wyvern which could also be a device element. The recycling of patterns is evident. With the exception of a few details of rigging and the presence this time of oars, the battle of Sluys (fol. 49) is close to being a copy of that of the Guernsey combat in the Brussels manuscript (though the latter has three ships, not two), though with slightly different armorial bearings shown. By and large, the Toulouse Froissart gives the impression of more hurried and less careful work. Faces are not modelled, the yellow ground lacks vegetation, and most episodes have been reduced to a squaring up between two groups of footsoldiers. More modest, therefore, it has no larger-format illuminations. This is not the case with the Besançon copy (MS 864) whose borders make it a representative of Group B.
Although it maintains the general outline of the quadripartite frontispiece, the Besançon Froissart (Book I) subtly reinvents the composition (fol. 1). In the first scene, Froissart is joined by an acolyte and the King of England’s throne is no longer resting on grass but on a floor tiled with black and green triangles, as in the adjacent scene of the reception of Isabella. The witnesses, reduced in number, have altered in appearance and the general effect is more spacious. The more slender tower in the siege of Bristol scene lacks a door, and in the foreground the illuminator has added the vibrant detail of a crossbowman reloading his weapon, which we also find represented by the Master of the Harvard Hannibal in BnF fr. 2663. Finally, the silver painted water on which Isabella’s vessel sails is a highly refined touch. Though we encounter once again the scene type of the symmetrical confrontation between ships (fol. 59), the themes and compositions are much more varied, often with care taken to characterise the locations, as with the siege of the castle of Auberoche in Gascony, positioned high on a beetling escarpment (fol. 112), and under assault by bombards, or the fortifications at the siege of Puirenon in Poitou (fol. 312). Here, the Giac Master has adopted a new type of background made up of golden acanthus over a pale chestnut (originally pink?) ground, a feature borrowed from the Egerton Master’s repertoire (fol. 112, 135, 181, 243v, 312, 330, 343v, 358). He is more willing to vary the gold-ink branch motifs, also on (still) pink backgrounds (fol. 1, 150v, 172, 235), which alternate with the mosaic backgrounds. The drawing of armour reveals a certain attention to detail, and the battles are gorier, with bodies bathed in blood piled up in the foregrounds. The impression emerging from the picture cycle is much more dynamic and would seem to be the result of a redevelopment of the programme of decoration, perhaps by Pierre de Liffol himself.
In comparison to the rectangular format of the frontispiece images in the Michel de Laillier manuscript and the smooth angles of Besançon MS 864, the quadrilobes of the Tanguy du Chastel Froissart (BnF, fr. 2664) signal a new departure. Also, for the first time in the Giac Master’s production of Froissart manuscripts, he has provided certain of his illuminations with a sky in aerial perspective, scattered with golden clouds instead of the more traditional decorative backgrounds. This is yet another sign of the influence of contemporary Parisian illuminators such as the Master of Guy de Laval in whose work this is a recurrent motif. Although it is also ‘quadrilobated’, the frontispiece of Royal Library of Brussels MS II 88, on the other hand, follows the first composition model relatively closely. His mosaic-background illuminations are less elaborately decorated despite the bouquets of fleurettes (tiny flowers) scattered across the ground, and we find examples of ‘mirrored’ naval confrontations (fol. 3 and, with double the number of vessels, fol. 6v). However, in the large miniature occupying the upper half of fol. 10, the battle of Cocherel is contextualised by the presence of a river and bridge close by which Du Guesclin gathers his troops. The two other large illuminations occupying most of the upper half of a folio (across both columns) echo each other in their composition: the funeral of Philip of Valois and the coronation of John the Good (fol. 12), and the entrance of the Duke of Brittany’s funeral procession and the siege of a town (fol. 14). Together they create a majestic effect. The most captivating image in the cycle is undoubtedly the last (fol. 15v), which depicts the meeting between Queen Joan of Naples and Pope Clement. The black background decorated with fine golden acanthus is the only one of its kind in this manuscript.
Finally, the Stonyhurst Froissart offers a variant of the quadripartite frontispiece (fol. 1). The two presentation scenes are very similar to the Michel de Laillier example (Froissart alone, in pale blue houppelande in each case) and Queen Isabella followed by two ladies wearing white hennins), but in contrast to the Michel de Laillier copy, in which the upper two scenes are set on a ground of grass and flowers, they are here situated in an interior implied in each case by a green-and-black tiled floor. In the lower register meanwhile, the disembarkation of Queen Isabella in the Brussels manuscript has been replaced by a seafaring scene, and the ramparts of Bristol are manned by men deploying pieces of ordnance (bouches à feu). The Stonyhurst manuscript also retains the remnants of notes for the illuminator, still visible at the bottom of the page and therefore revealing various modifications implemented between the mise-en-place underdrawing and final painting; these are as much clues to revisions made to the programme of decoration as to the Giac Master’s experimentation in response. The result is a very successful one. The scenes have gained a greater sense of drama, the colours of the soldiers’ surcoats are more vibrant and varied, and the landscapes are contoured and crowded with shrubs and ferns instead of the customary fleurettes. The approach is exemplified in the large illumination of the duke of Brittany’s funeral procession glimpsed passing between a range of hills on fol. 69, showing how the artist appears to have borrowed the Boucicaut Master’s device of placing a hill or highly-toned mound in the foreground to throw into relief the depth of field of the landscape composition. Elsewhere (fol. 133v, 180v and 192r, etc.) he tries his hand at creating atmospheric perspective, using the golden-clouded skies already deployed in BnF, fr. 2664.
The separate but adjacent illuminations of the funeral service of Philip of Valois and coronation of John the Good, occupying the upper half of fol. 153v, are bravura pieces; the first because of the abstract effect conveyed by the placing of the bier on a green-and-black tiled floor and against a red-and-gold chequered background with four hooded mourners in heavy black vestments surrounding it, one of them breaching the frame to the right, and all four fully concealed by their spectral hooded habits (recalling perhaps the pleurants sculpted by Claus Sluter on the tombs of the dukes of Burgundy at Champmol). The second bravura characteristic is supplied by the graceful architecture of the cathedral of Rheims with its slender columns, vaults painted in rich blue overlaid with fleur-de-lys in gold, and silver glazed windows, not to mention the joyous harmony of white, blue and gold which highlights the King of France, and the eucharistic altar pointing upwards to the gable, topped by a slender spire protruding beyond the frame and crowned with a golden cross surmounted by a weathercock. These two scenes are echoed in simpler form on folio 227v in a triptych composition illustrating events from the year 1364: the death of John the Good in London, the coronation of Charles V and the battle of Cocherel. The latter scene occupies the whole width of the space beneath the funeral and coronation scenes, its bright tones of green and blue, atmospheric sky perspective with golden clouds and well-spaced groups of soldiers thus presenting an expansive panorama. The smaller miniatures in this manuscript similarly acquire a greater depth of field, whilst depicting tragic or bloody scenes such as the death of Charles of Blois (fol. 239), the murder of Pedro I of Castile, slain in single combat by his half brother Henry of Trastámara (fol. 274r), or again the battle of Brignais (fol. 217), in a composition which descends a steep slope, the foreground of which is littered with corpses and discarded, bloodied lances. In place of the axial symmetry of his first illuminations, the Giac Master begins here to favour a diagonal construction for his compositions, which emphasises their vitality and allows more space for landscape (witness his depiction of the siege of the chatêau of Chizé in Poitou, on fol. 337, which is intersected diagonally by two rows of what look like small conifers). The Stonyhurst Froissart thus appears to represent a culmination.
The Giac Master had the opportunity to collaborate with leading illuminators of the very first order, such as the Boucicaut Master, the Bedford Master and his workshop, and, towards the end of his career and in the 1430s, with the Rohan Master; but his most frequent collaborator was none other than the Boethius Master. Besides the two Froissart manuscripts already referred to, for which each worked on one of the two volumes (Besançon MSS 864-865, and BnF, fr. 2663-2664), they were both involved in the production of six other illuminated manuscripts: two Valerius Maximus manuscripts (BnF, fr. 20320 and Oxford, Douce MSS 202-203), a Bartholomew of England manuscript (BnF, fr. 22531), some Bibles historiales in two volumes (BnF, fr. 3-4 and fr. 15393-15394) and a manuscript of the Traité des vices et des vertus [‘Treatise on the Vices and Virtues’] by Jacques le Grand destined for the Abbey of Saint Victor in Paris (BnF, lat. 14245). Thus, their partnership on the Froissart manuscripts produced under the management of Pierre de Liffol is not accidental. The form this teamwork took was, however, variable: for the Valerius Maximus manuscript (fr. 20320), the Giac Master produced the frontispiece and the majority of the illuminations, while in the first Bible historiale (fr. 3), he reserves the frontispiece for himself, leaving the remaining illuminations to the Boethius Master, who is in turn relieved towards the end of the volume by another associate, the Maître de Saint-Voult, who in addition executed the second volume (fr. 4). In the Bartholomew of England manuscript, the Boethius Master is the principal illuminator, and in the Jacques le Grand manuscript, each painted a miniature, a small one in the case of the Giac Master and a large one by the Boethius Master. It does not seem, therefore, that one was subordinate to the other, but rather that they were united in their exercise of their craft, by a good professional understanding and by mutual trust and confidence.
Pierre de Liffol clearly called upon this pair, dividing the volumes between the two illuminators, unless the Giac Master subcontracted a part of his work to his colleague. Yet, classifying the manuscripts according to their decoration and illuminations makes this second hypothesis less likely, for there is a discernible consistency in the allocation of the Froissart manuscripts. Whereas for their other manuscripts produced in partnership they worked simultaneously on the same volume, this is not the case here. In fact, Group A can be attributed wholly to the Giac Master, Group B sees them working in parallel; Groups C and D are to be attributed in the main to the Giac Master, and Group E to the Boethius Master.
The Boethius Master, an occasional associate of the Boucicaut Master, whom he eagerly imitated around 1415, has been most closely linked to the Master of the Apocalypse of John, duke of Berry, whose work he has been thought to have emulated. However he emerges as an independent illuminator, a contemporary of the Master of the Berry Apocalypse, with whom he works from time to time, but far less frequently than he does with the Giac Master. His output does, however, have a very different style from the latter’s, for he produced very few devotional books and seems to have specialised in the illumination of historical texts: a Vie de saint Louis [‘Life of St Louis’] intended for the dauphin Louis de Guyenne, undoubtedly one of his earliest productions (London, BL, Royal 13 B III, ca 1408-1410), for ancient history, a Faits des Romains [‘Deeds of the Romans’], a Grandes Chroniques de France [the royal French chronicle cycle], an Arbre des batailles [‘Tree of Battles’] by Honoré Bovet, a Chronicle of Normandy bearing the du Chastel arms, a copy of the Des cleres et nobles femmes bearing the Beaufort arms. Three dated manuscripts could well be contemporaries of the first Froissart manuscripts to which he contributed: a Consolation de Philosophie [‘Consolation of Philosophy’] by Boethius completed in 1414 (BnF, fr. 12459), the manuscript from which the artist takes his name, a commentary by Jean de Blois on the Psalms completed in 1415 for Girard Morel, vicar of Monampteuil in the diocese of Laon (BnF, fr. 964) and a Manuel d’histoire de Philippe de Valois copied in Paris in 1416 (BnF, n.a.fr. 14285) for which he painted the frontispiece.
The Besançon 865 manuscript provides a good insight into the Boethius Master’s approach to battle scenes. Rows of serried ranks of helmets emphasise the massing effect of these groups of undifferentiated warriors. Their armour is invariably blue in order to convey the bluish quality of steel, whilst the colour of the surcoats covering them introduces a degree of variety: orange, green and sometimes dark pink or mosaic gold (aurum musivum, a grainy golden pigment), whichever side the protagonists may have been on. The illuminator has provided some of them with a type of great oval shield which he was particularly fond of, recalling the contemporary pavise (as exhibited in 2007-08 at the Royal Armouries exhibition), as in the fine scene of the battle of Rozebeke (fol. 133v) which spreads across both columns of the manuscript page. The other main scenes of the manuscript, at least in terms of their dimensions, are, besides the quartered frontispiece (fol. 1), Froissart’s visit to the court of Gaston Fébus (fol. 201) and the battle of Aljubarrota (fol. 239v). In the court scenes, kings and princes are always recognisable by their red or blue houppelandes lined with ermine. The inexpressive faces have a pallid complexion shaded with blue, characteristic of this Master. The backgrounds of plain gold, blue and orange mosaic are not especially masterful when compared to those of other illuminators. However, the Boethius Master does exhibit his skills in the naval scenes which seem to have particularly inspired him, as in the very evocative voyage of the duke of Brittany from Calais to Dover in rough weather (fol. 5) where sea and sky merge in a blend of brown, indigo blue and white, or the sea battle between the French and English off La Rochelle in 1372 (fol. 441), on a calm and milky sea.
The seascapes of the Tanguy du Chastel manuscript (BnF, fr. 2663) also succeed in a convincing execution of water, using very limited means. The water is hinted at using white strokes on a grey wash background, for example in the boarding scene of the battle of Sluys (fol. 61) or in another depiction of the battle of La Rochelle (fol. 374v). The compositions are almost identical, and each time the naval combat is epitomised by a confrontation between two ships. Here the ships lack masts and sails, in contrast to those of the Besançon manuscript, but in fol. 133, the illuminator has taken care to furl the mainsail of the ship drawn alongside, as he depicts Edward III coming down a footbridge at his disembarkation at Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue. Set composition types can also be found in scenes of land battles: those of Crécy (fol. 145v), Maupertuis or Poitiers (fol. 185v) and Auray (fol. 217v) follow exactly the same pattern including the characteristic profile of the man carrying a club seen from the back. The only (minor) modifications are to the colours of the surcoats, which could lead one to believe that the illuminator was working from a line drawing. The combatants at Crécy are particularly expressive, brandishing their arms outside of the image frame. The blows are evidently raining down. The main illuminations here are kept for the Breton wars (fol. 74) and for the battle of Cocherel (fol. 258), placed in landscapes where several groups of people or several episodes of the narrative are separated by the folds of the terrain and the little trees with yellow-flecked foliage; as well as a double compartment interior scene suggested by a diaphragmatic structure subdividing the space into two (fol. 171): the coronation of John the Good on the left, and the funeral procession of Philip of Valois on the right, appearing to condense these events into an illustration of the proclamation: The king is dead, long live the king!
The Boethius Master generally allows little space for heraldry. Banners are rare, and those that were intended are sometimes left unpainted. However, one of his manuscripts is an exception, the Froissart of Pierre de Fontenay housed today at the Morgan Library in New York, where we not only find banners but even surcoats emblazoned. This uncharacteristic heraldic display on the part of the illuminator would seem to be responding to a specific request made by a patron. In addition to the book presentation miniature on the frontispiece page (fol. 1), the programme of illustration has emphasised the episode of the departure from Paris of the lord of Mussidan (fol. 265), a Gascon lord who rallied to the English at Calais. A spatio-temporal synopsis allows the two cities to be encompassed in one scene, Paris being recognisable by its civic arms painted above the city gate (one of the earliest extant representations of these). Despite these still stereotyped urban depictions, the influence of a leading illuminator, the Boucicaut Master, with whom the Boethius Master had shared the illustration of a manuscript of the Trésor des Histoires (Paris, Bibliothèque d’Arsenal, MS 5077), is discernible in this more spacious composition, in the sky background, fading and starlit at the same time, the brighter palette, and the more elegant and elongated forms of the figures. This manuscript therefore corresponds to a later phase in the Master’s career. Yet his taste for seascapes never faltered, exemplified in this case in the undulating indigo blue water of fol. 25, fol. 44v (battle of Sluys), fol. 72 and fol. 236 (battle off La Rochelle).
Finally, amongst the Froissart Chronicles manuscripts of our corpus, only two appear exceptional in terms of the style of their illuminations, and thus their escape from the monopoly of the Giac and Boethius Masters. These are BnF, fr. 2675-2676 previously cited, and The Hague Royal Library copy, MS KB 72 A 25, which bears the arms of a member of the Luxembourg family. The frontispiece page illustration, particularly rich with its acanthus decoration, was entrusted to a leading illuminator, the Flavius Josephus Master. We are only aware of a handful of often unfinished manuscripts by this rarely encountered artist, done between 1407 and 1415, such as the Antiquités judaïques [‘Antiquities of the Jews’] by Flavius Josephus, BnF, fr. 247, by which he is now known, the frontispiece of which is the work of the Harvard Hannibal Master, whilst he himself produced just two illuminations for it (fols 25 and 49). The only manuscript he brought entirely to fruition himself is a collection of the works of Jean de Meung (Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, ms. 3339). Even here, his contribution consists of only three illuminations: the frontispieces for each of the Roman de la Rose, the Testament of Jean de Meung and his Trésor (fols 1, 156 and 187). The Flavius Josephus Master is the creator of the frontispiece of a manuscript of the Comédies of Terence presented to Duke John of Berry as a New Year’s gift in 1408, and, under the name of Master of the Roman Texts, of another copy of the Terence, left incomplete, as well as of a collection of the works of Virgil (Lyons, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 27) of which he illustrated only the Eclogues and Georgics. These two manuscripts, probably intended for a humanist close to the court (the name of Nicolas de Clamanges has been suggested), are painted in a style using drawings embellished with colour over a background of bare parchment. The small number of illuminations that can be attributed to him, his skill in rendering the volume of the human figure, and the quality of his modelling of faces often with an aquiline profile and prominent jaw, have contributed to the supposition that he may have been predominantly a studio painter making only occasional forays into the field of the illuminated manuscript book. This refined and energetic style can be found also in the quadripartite frontispiece of The Hague Froissart (fol. 1), particularly in the first scene. The advisors and nobility present at the arrival of an English messenger at the court of the King of France provide an excellent insight into the ingenuity and originality of the Flavius Josephus Master. The Flavius Josephus Master painted several other illuminations towards the end of this manuscript, including a very lively Battle of Auray (fol. 257), two seascapes (Siege of La Rochelle, fol. 343, Edward III voyaging, fol. 349) and the Battle of Montbourg (fol. 371), but the rest of the cycle (30 scenes in total, not including the frontispiece) is the work of a true illuminator who, for his part, was very active. Around fifty manuscripts, abundantly illustrated for the most part, can be attributed to him for the years between 1390 and 1415, approximately. This Virgil Master, so-called after another collection of texts by the Latin poet (Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana, Med. Pal. 69), specialised rather in the illustration of the classics (Vitruvius, Statius, Boethius, Vegetius, Livy and particularly Valerius Maximus). He seems to have been held in considerable esteem by Duke John of Berry, who possessed several texts illuminated by his hand. The Froissart manuscript, pertaining to a later stage in his career, is without doubt a contemporary of the two-volume manuscript of the Cité de Dieu [‘City of God’] (Paris, BnF, fr. 6272 and The Hague, Museum Meermanno-Westreenianum, MS 10 A 12) and displays undeniably comparable formal characteristics. The Master’s hand here becomes very fluid, and his decorative backgrounds are readily replaced by atmospheric landscapes, as in the extraordinary naval combat scene showing Robert of Artois, with its orange sky streaked with black clouds (Froissart, The Hague, KB MS 72 A 25, fol. 100v). Yet, always recognisable are his masculine faces, poorly shaven and consumed by the black beards of which he was so fond from the beginning of his career onwards.
The circulation across numerous manuscripts and between the years 1410 and 1425 of a programme of decoration for the Froissart Chronicles, and the ways in which work was shared between several ornamentors and illuminators, but chiefly the Giac and Boethius Masters, affords us a glimpse of a highly organised approach to manuscript production. It would indeed seem that the undertakings of Pierre de Liffol and his colleagues achieved considerable success. The miniatures certainly had a significant share in this.