The Primer of Claude of France

Master of Antoine de Roche


Mazzoni left for France in 1496 where he served as artist to Charles VIII (1470-1498) and designed the king’s bronze tomb in St Denis. Mazzoni also executed various commissions for Louis XII and Anne of Brittany, and it is conceivable that he made this Primer at the queen’s request. Ironically, for a book that was made to teach her daughter how to read, garbled captions in Old French (e.g. ADEM ET VEE) are inscribed on the gold frames of the miniatures. The captions in red and blue were painted with a fine brush and are almost certainly the work of the illuminator. Whoever supplied the captions had not mastered French, which lends support to the idea that the artist was a foreigner. No works survive from Guido Mazzoni’s time in France, so whether he did, in fact, illuminate Claude’s Primer remains subject to debate.

Lightbox: 66
Detail of Anne of Brittany’s face under magnification (7.5x).
Lightbox: 67
Detail of the folds in St Claude’s mantle under magnification (7.5x), with underdrawing showing through the thin layer of shell gold and underneath the semi-transparent pink paint of the inner fold.
Lightbox: 68
Detail of St Anne’s blue-green robe under magnification (60x), painted with vergaut. The Raman spectrum (below) confirms the identification of the coarse yellow particles as orpiment (bands at 141, 159, 206, 296, 314 and 359 cm-1) and of indigo in the blue matrix surrounding them (bands at 550 and 602 cm-1).
Lightbox: 69
Detail of a green leaf in the lower border under magnification (60x), showing particles of green malachite and blue azurite, identified by FORS. These two copper carbonates are often found together in natural deposits. The peaks of lead (Pb) and tin (Sn) in the XRF spectrum (below) identify the yellow particles as lead-tin yellow.

Anne of Brittany, kneeling at a prayer desk beside a youthful Virgin Mary, is presented by St Anne to the enthroned bishop, St Claude. A book bound in red rests on the prayer desk, which is covered in a blue cloth embroidered with fleurs-de-lis and gold initials A for Anne. The carpet bears Anne’s arms (France impaling Brittany), which are also held aloft by the angel on a pillar in the left margin. The arms are depicted a third time in the lower margin encircled by the motto, PENSON EN DIEU, with sprays of blue flowers on either side. Shown in prayer, Anne serves as a pious model for her daughter, Claude, for whom she commissioned the book.

The loose, rapid brush work of the artist is clearly visible in the dark blue-green background and the light grey floor. Preparatory sketches for the drapery folds appear through the thin layers of the gold mantle of St Claude, shaded and outlined in organic pink, and of Anne of Brittany’s gold dress, which has contrasting outlines in dark indigo. The infrared image reveals the full extent of the thick lines of the underdrawing in the draperies and in the faces, particularly of St Anne.