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.

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Detail of Adam’s brown skirt under magnification (7.5x). In the early modern period, Adam’s naked torso was covered with this skirt, painted with one or more organic colourants.
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The ‘virtual restoration’ process was based on a digital colour photograph and an infrared image of the overpainted details. The infrared image (above, left) revealed the original appearance of the area beneath the later additions. The part to be ‘restored’ was marked and used as a boundary to solve a partial differential equation that is guided by the local structure encoded in the infrared image and extracted in a false-colour image (above, right). This process, called osmosis filtering, resulted in the ‘restored’ image on the bottom left. Non-local image features, such as textures and patterns, were restored in a second step using a ‘copy & paste’ technique, which resulted in the image on the bottom right. The reconstructed details were then integrated into the scene, as shown in the ‘Virtual restoration’ layer.
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Detail of one of the misspelled captions under magnification (7.5x). It mistakenly reads ADEM ET VEE rather than ADAM ET EVE.
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The grass below the feet of God the Father was painted with a complex mixture containing indigo and azurite, both identified by reflectance spectroscopy thanks to the typical absorptions at 660, 1491, 2283 and 2350 nm (above). XRF analysis reveals the additional presence of lead-tin yellow (Pb and Sn in the spectrum below).

At the request of a post-medieval owner who was offended by their nudity, the images of Adam and Eve on this page were overpainted to conceal the couple’s nakedness; Eve acquired a veil and Adam a skirt (hotspot 1). Using virtual ‘image restoration’ based on Partial Differential Equations (PDEs), it has been possible to create mathematical reconstructions of the scenes and to digitally ‘restore’ the figures to their original state (hotspot 2 and ‘Virtual restoration’ layer).

This is one of the pages where the artist used the unusual pigment known as ‘artificial orpiment’, mixed with lead-tin yellow in feathers of the bird in the upper border.