The rituals that Renaud de Bar would have performed, as described in the text, are depicted in meticulous detail. Both participants and settings are rendered with remarkable finesse. The ambitious decorative programme, consisting of 42 large miniatures, hundreds of initials, decorative borders and bas-de-page scenes was designed by a single artist who takes his name from this volume.
Learn more about the manuscript by exploring the sections below or selecting folios on the right. Discover further details by choosing any of the folios with the hotspot symbol .
The manuscript was made for Renaud de Bar between his elevation to the bishopric of Metz in 1303 and his death in 1316. By the 18th century, it was in the Cathedral Library at Albi. It was probably sold by Jean-François Massol, who oversaw the library’s dispersal from 1795, to Count Justin MacCarthy Reagh (1744-1811). Subsequently, the volume belonged to F.S. Ellis (1830-1901) and Sir Thomas Brooke (1830-1908), who bequeathed it to Henry Yates Thompson (1838-1928). Thompson gave the volume to the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1918.
One of a two-volume set, now divided between Cambridge and Prague (National Library of the Czech Republic, MS XXIII.C.120), this Pontifical contains the texts of liturgical offices and blessings performed by high-ranking churchmen. Long rectangular miniatures, with grounds of decorative scrollwork and ornate patterns, mark the main sections of the text. Most show bishops performing religious ceremonies with other clergy in attendance. The manuscript is decorated throughout with large historiated initials generally filled with subsidiary scenes relating to the ceremonies discussed in the text, but sometimes decorated with coats of arms or a standing figure of a bishop. The manuscript also features large ornamental initials with foliate motifs and interlace. The initials generally extend into full or partial bar borders inhabited by animals, birds, human figures and fanciful creatures. Small burnished gold initials mark lesser textual divisions. A wide variety of bas-de-page scenes, drawn and painted with consummate skill, offer additional visual interest. The rabbits, which are shown on many pages making mischief, are also found in other manuscripts associated with Renaud de Bar and may allude to the new fashion among the nobility for keeping warrens.
The simple yet vibrant palette chosen by the artist combines gold leaf and shell gold, carbon black, red lead, orpiment, an organic yellow, Verdigris, lead white and an insect-derived red dye which yields a translucent pink when mixed lead white. A delicate lilac colour, only present in the final portion of the volume, was also obtained with an organic colourant. Brown and grey hues were achieved by mixing indigo with a range of other pigments. The palette includes two more blue pigments: ultramarine and azurite were used in specific ways throughout the volume.
The illustrations in quire 15, left unfinished by the original artist, were partially completed at a later date with a different range of pigments.
The final section of this manuscript (quires 15-20) was left at various stages of completion, revealing the artist’s methods of work. In the last two quires (fols. 127-140), free-hand drawings delineate all elements of the design, down to facial features and ornamental details. In quires 15-18 (fols. 98-126), the drawings were covered in lead white to create a smooth, uniform ground. The gold leaf was applied next. For details, such as crosiers and candlesticks, it was laid flat on the parchment and left unburnished, but in the miniatures’ frames and the initials’ backgrounds the gold leaf was first applied on a raised ground of blue-coloured bole and then polished to create a highly reflective, dazzling effect. Shell gold was also used as paint, for example in the tendrils traced over some of the miniatures’ blue backgrounds. The azurite in these backgrounds was applied at the same stage as the blue and pink initials and foliate extensions. Next, the figures’ robes were mapped in blue, orange, pink and violet. These base colours were shaded in darker hues and highlighted with white. The subtle modelling technique imparts a three-dimensional effect to the incomplete miniatures. The finished images in the first section of the manuscript owe their more graphic, decorative effect to the stronger contrasts between the final layers of shading and highlights, and the crisp carbon-black outlines and facial features.
Ornamental initials B and S with foliate motifs (Blessing of an Abbot of Canons)
The partial bar border is also decorated with foliate motifs. A unicorn that has taken refuge in a virgin’s lap is speared by a hunter in the bas-de-page. The motif of the hunted unicorn, trapped by a young virgin (who represents the Virgin Mary) is an allegory of Christ’s Incarnation.