Leaves from the Hours of Charles de Martigny

Charles de Martigny


The prominent French prelate Charles de Martigny, Bishop of Elne (1475-1494) and Abbot of Saint-Étienne of Caen (1494-1512), served as Louis XI’s ambassador to Edward IV of England and remained a prominent member of Charles VIII's and Louis XII’s courts. These three leaves at the Fitzwilliam Museum, a bifolio in Lisbon (Gulbenkian Museum, MS 2 A-B), and two miniatures in a private collection (sold at Christie’s, London, 10 July 1979, lot 144) are the only known surviving fragments from Charles de Martigny’s Hours. His portrait, displaying Jean Bourdichon’s remarkable ability to capture his subject’s likeness, is incorporated in the Fitzwilliam’s miniature of the Mass of St Gregory. Charles kneels near the altar, behind Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540-604). A virtually identical portrait, accompanied by the heraldic arms of Charles de Martigny, appears on the bifolio preserved in Lisbon.

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Detail of St Gregory’s face under magnification (10x).
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Detail of Charles de Martigny’s face under magnification (10x).
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Detail of Christ’s face under magnification (7.5x).
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Detail of a retouched area under magnification (40x). The altar cloth had originally been painted with lead white and ultramarine blue (at the sides), and was retouched with lithopone and cobalt blue (in the centre) at the end of the 19th century.
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Detail of a retouched area under magnification (16x). The delicate features of the angel, originally painted with shell gold, were retouched in the late 19th century using brass powder.

According to tradition, while Pope Gregory the Great was celebrating Mass, he had a vision of the wounded Christ. Gregory’s mystical experience was widely interpreted as confirmation of the truth of the doctrine of transubstantiation (the belief that during the Mass, the bread and wine are miraculously transformed into Christ’s body and blood). In this miniature, Christ looms above the altar, with blood flowing from his wounds. Dressed in gleaming white garments, two angels support his slumped figure. Clasped in the hand of the angel on the right are the three nails used to fasten his hands and feet to the cross. Surrounded by silver-lined clouds, more angels, painted in azurite over an ultramarine sky, bear additional emblems of Christ’s death and suffering (Arma Christi).

Charles de Martigny kneels near the altar, behind Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540-604) who holds the host aloft. Charles is dressed in a white liturgical garment (an alb), rather than more ostentatious vestments. The delicate execution of the figures, the individualized likeness of the patron, the red, swollen eyes of Christ’s grief-stricken attendants, and the treatment of his dead body find close parallels in other works by Jean Bourdichon.

The text of the prayer continues on the reverse, which is decorated with a one-sided, vertical border in the outer margin of pink and blue acanthus and floral sprays on a gold ground, and a bird. The text is mostly obscured by paper pasted onto the reverse.