A Century of Giving
Master Honoré de Amiens
Leaves from a copy of Somme le roi
gold leaf, gold ink and tempera on parchment, 12.7 x 10.2cm, 17 x 12 cm
Medieval manuscripts were Cockerell's greatest passion. As Director, and one of the leading scholars and collectors of his time, he greatly expanded the Museum's existing manuscript collection through gifts, loans and donations of first class material. When the opportunity arose, he also used the Friends' fund to buy volumes or leaves 'at small prices'.
One such affordable example was this sumptuous leaf [above right, MS 368] from La Somme le roi: a series of moral lessons written in 1279 for Philip III of France by his confessor, to instruct princes in a Christian life and rule. Later translated into several languages, it spread throughout Europe.
The manuscript is illustrated by allegorical figures of Virtues and contrasting Vices in a delicate and refined style, drawn in gold ink over a burnished gold background.
On the left is 'Chastity' - an elegant, crowned woman holding a bird whilst trampling on a vicious-looking hog. She stands opposite 'Luxure' (or Lust) who holds a manacle and towel, and is spitting blood. Both qualities are exemplified by the male and female biblical characters below: Judith beheading the cruel Holofernes and Joseph escaping the sexual advances of Potiphar's wife.
The Museum had already acquired one leaf [above left, MS 192] from this manuscript in 1892. Cockerell had identified it as the work of Master Honoré - one of the greatest book illuminators of the Middle Ages. He bought this second leaf when it resurfaced in 1934 and was always hopeful the remainder would be rediscovered. It was, and can now be seen in the British Library.