Leaves from the Hours of Charles de Martigny

Painting with gold

Artists' Techniques

The miniature of Pentecost features shell gold highlights on the draperies, hair and the Virgin’s chair. The soft gradations and varying concentrations of shell gold seen here, especially on the apostles’ white hair and beards, have their origins in the stippling technique which Bourdichon learned from his master, Jean Fouquet, and shared with his assistants.

Bourdichon’s technique of contrasting deep shadows with highlights executed in varying concentrations of shell gold is evident in the dramatic light effects that illuminate the night scene of the Betrayal and Arrest of Christ. Beneath a starry sky, the blazing torches illuminate armour, clothing, hair and flesh. Even the semi-transparent halos catch the light. Reflections draw attention to small, but important details of the pictorial narrative, such as St Peter’s sword and Judas’ purse, which might have escaped the observer’s eye had they been allowed to blend into the darkness.

Bourdichon employed the camaïeu d’or technique to highlight the Arma Christi (Instruments of the Passion) carried by angels in the miniature of the Mass of St Gregory.

Lightbox: 235
Detail of Christ and Judas’ faces under magnification (7.5x).
Lightbox: 236
Detail of Judas’ dark yellow robe under magnification (7.5x). The robe was painted with an arsenic sulphide pigment not found in the other two leaves.

Set in the Garden of Gethsemane, this miniature shows Christ, Judas, St Peter and other figures depicted half-length against a dark blue sky, with highlights in shell gold. This composition features in numerous manuscripts painted by Bourdichon and his workshop. The main protagonists were most probably painted by Bourdichon himself, while the rest of the image, lacking the master’s subtle modelling, was completed by his assistants.

The arch-topped miniature features a full border of pink and blue acanthus and red, blue and pink floral sprays on a gold ground with birds, a frog, and a monkey mounted on a dragon. Below are three lines of text, opening with a grey and white ornamental initial D, introducing Terce of the Hours of the Virgin. The letter is filled with gold on a pink ground, enclosing sprays of blue, yellow and white pansies. The text of Terce of the Hours of the Virgin continues on the reverse, which is decorated with a one-sided, vertical border in the outer margin, containing pink and blue acanthus and floral sprays on a gold ground with a bird. The page is further ornamented with small foliate initials in contrasting colours, one embellished with a fly, and another with an animal head. Line fillers take the form of white and gold foliate motifs on blue and maroon grounds, and tree branches rendered in brown and gold.