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.

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Detail of the Virgin’s face under magnification (7.5x).
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Detail of the apostle’s face under magnification (7.5x).
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Detail of the apostle’s face under magnification (7.5x).

Surrounded by the apostles as the dove of the Holy Spirit descends, the Virgin Mary is the central focus of this miniature, which would have introduced the Hours of the Holy Spirit in the original manuscript. The proportion of image to text, the border design, the miniature’s thin, arched frame, the balanced, symmetrical composition, and the architectural backdrop emphasizing the Virgin’s centrality echo Pentecost miniatures in works by Bourdichon and his workshop in the 1480s and 1490s. The monumental figures in the foreground are early examples of the artist’s mature style. In his later works, Bourdichon increasingly favoured compositions with ‘dramatic close-ups’. While the composition follows the master’s design faithfully, the level of execution, especially in the schematic background figures, falls short of Bourdichon’s autographs, which suggests that the image was painted by a close assistant.

The miniature features a full border of pink and blue acanthus and floral sprays on a gold ground, with strawberries, two birds, a butterfly and a seated dog. Below are three lines of text, opening with a grey and white ornamental initial D, introducing the Hours of the Holy Spirit. The letter is filled with gold on a pink ground, enclosing sprays of blue, yellow and white pansies. The text of the Hours of the Holy Spirit continues on the reverse, which is decorated with a one-sided, vertical border in the outer margin. The border contains pink and blue acanthus, and floral sprays on a gold ground, strawberries and two birds. The page is further ornamented with small foliate initials in contrasting colours, one embellished with a fly and another with the head of a goat. Line fillers take the form of white and gold foliate motifs on blue and maroon grounds, and a tree branch rendered in brown and gold.