Leaves from Laurent d’Orléans, La Somme le roi

France, Paris
c. 1290-1295
MSS 192, 368

The leaves are from one of the earliest surviving copies of the work (London, BL, Add. MS 54180), which was made in the 1290s, probably for Philip IV of France (1285-1314) and his queen, Jeanne of Navarre (1273-1305). Conceived to impress and instruct members of the royal circle, the decoration was entrusted to the leading contemporary Parisian artist, Master Honoré, who illuminated other royal manuscripts.

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Secular professionals working in the manuscript trade established themselves throughout France, but Paris — the largest city in medieval Europe — dominated the market in the late 13th century. Among the illuminators who have been identified by name is Master Honoré, a native of Amiens, whose work was unsurpassed in finesse and technical execution.

Both leaves are from a copy of the Somme le roi (London, BL, Add. MS 54180) which was probably made for Philip IV of France (1268-1314), known as le Bel (‘the Fair’), and his consort, Jeanne of Navarre (1273-1305). MS 192, which was removed from the volume at an unknown date, came into the possession of Sir John Fenn (1739-1794) and his heirs, before being acquired by Edwin Henry Lawrence (1817-1891), and then Samuel Sanders (1837-1894) who gave it to the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1892. MS 368, likewise removed from the manuscript, was purchased in 1934 by the Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum.


These full-page miniatures were designed to mark the start of chapters in the Traité des vertus (Treatise of Virtues), the final text in the Somme le roi. The leaves were originally placed after fols. 111 and 156 in the parent manuscript (London, BL, Add. MS 54180). Like the full-page miniatures that have remained in place, these two were painted on separate leaves of thick parchment, with the reverse left blank, before being bound into the volume.

The typical mid-13th-century Parisian palette dominated by ultramarine blue, red lead and organic pink is complemented by carbon black, lead white, verdigris and brown earth pigments. Gold and silver were also used in both miniatures. The palette of MS 368 is enriched by additional materials.

Despite their close relationship, the two leaves display striking differences in overall appearance. MS 192 shows paint losses, light-induced degradation of the binding medium, fading of the pigments and overall darkening, while MS 368 has undergone significantly less damage. This is due to the different provenance of MS 192, removed from its parent manuscript probably long before MS 368 and likely submitted to significant exposure to light. MS 368 helps us understand how MS 192 might have looked in its original state.