Beaupré Antiphonary, Volume Three


Illuminated in Hainaut around 1280 and completed in 1290, this collection of richly decorated Cistercian manuscripts is a rare example of those being produced in Flanders at the end of the 13th century. Nineteen extant large historiated initials, flourished and decorated initials, and an abundance of amusing drolleries facilitate a liturgical narrative from the text. However, additions and removals within the text and imagery tell much about the use and history of the manuscript. This manuscript is the third volume of the three-volume set (volumes one and two are lost) destined for the prioress at the Cistercian abbey of Sainte-Marie at Beaupré (diocese of Cambrai, in French Flanders). The liturgical contents provide musical settings from Christmas to Easter. Two sets of antiphonaries, each composed of three volumes, were originally created for the abbess and prioress of Beaupré. Of these two sets, the Walters Art Museum houses three volumes: two volumes from the set intended for the abbess and this volume from the set designated for the prioress. A fourth associated volume was created later to supplement volume 1 of the abbess’s set (W.759). It should be noted that apart from the volumes housed at the Walters, there survive four cutout initials from the other volumes. However, in 1865, those volumes regrettably were lost in a fire that spread from a house adjacent to Sotheby’s in London, where they were being prepared for sale. In addition to the manuscripts' rich illumination, there is also a wealth of historical evidence throughout. Added at the beginning of each volume is a full-page inscription that details ownership. Here it reads, “Antiphonaire pour servir dans le Choeur du côté de Ma-Dame L’abbesse, depuis le Nöel iusqu' à Pâques.” This volume contains an authorial portrait of the scribe or artist, a Cistercian monk named Johannes de Toussens at the base of folio 1 recto, who holds a scroll that reads “I, John, wrote this book.” The manuscripts' patroness who married into the de Viane family is depicted at the start of volume 1 (W.759). Donations by members of the de Viane family to Sainte-Marie of Beaupré were recorded from 1244 to 1293. In 1475‒1500 select 13th-century Offices were replaced in part by revisions and by additions placed at the end of the volume. In the 18th century some 13th- and 15th-century leaves were removed, changes were made to both neumes and text passim, and pages were added at the end of the volume. The first additions were presumably for Abbess Jacqueline Hendricx (1473‒1500), the second were likely for the last abbess, Angéline de Lossy (1755‒96), after which the abbey was seized during the French Revolution. Drolleries are most often found on pages with historiated initials, and principally focused on centered bas-de-page scenes. While many drolleries were effaced, some traces of these images can be recognized by their shadowy outlines. Many of these erasures are thought to be at the hand of the English art critic and scholar John Ruskin (1819‒1900), who is also credited with writing a separate table of contents, as well as several transcriptions of the Latin text found on numerous leaves. Truly a remarkable work, this multi-volume antiphonary was generously given to The Walters Art Museum in 1957 as a bequest of the Hearst Foundation.

Last updated: October 24, 2017