PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION AND MATERIALITY
Parchment, a cutting with a miniature and side borders, c.215×155mm, pasted to a wood panel (so the text is not identifiable), the back of which has an 18th(?)-century collection number “[N]o475”, in a carved giltwood frame, with a hanging loop at the top, with some overall rubbing and loss of pigment particularly, it seems, in the faces of the five seated men, which are far less finely painted and modelled than the youth standing to the right of the scene and the elder in the left border, alternatively it may be that two artists of very different ability collaborated on this miniature.
As with no. 27 below, this miniature – deliberately excised from its parent volume for the express purpose of preserving it – is entirely different from the majority of fragments in this catalogue which their 16th- and 17th-century owners did not consider worthy of preservation. The way in which it has been cropped (including the loss of borders, an illuminated initial, and the feet of the marginal figure) and glued-down to a wood board, shows that the person who saved this miniature had no interest at all in the text – indeed s/he wanted to remove/obscure it as thoroughly as possible.
The cutting is stuck down to a wood panel, and only a very narrow sliver of script is visible at the very bottom edge on each side – not enough to identify the text, and therefoe no help in identifying the subject of the miniature. Some of the sister-cuttings have visible text on the reverse in lettre bâtarde script in two columns, of which 29 lines were preserved, from which the text was identified as Laurent de Premierfait’s translation into French of works of Cicero, including De senectute and De amicitia. A careful reading of the text would doubtless allow the subject of the miniature to be identified with confidence.
This is a large, fine, secular miniature, of an extremely unusual subject, from a lavishly-illuminated copy of a rare vernacular translation of a Classical text. On almost every count it is, therefore, rarer and more desirable than a typical miniature from a Book of Hours.
The elderly figure in the left border, who appears like a narrator next to a stage-set, is probably Cicero. The contrast between the five seated men, two of them with white beards and all of them soberly dressed, and the youth wearing tight stockings and fashionable long-sleeved jerkin, suggests that the text is De senectute (On old age), and the chapter involves debate between the young and old.
One of the most striking features of the image is its depiction of atmospheric effects: the dark sky suggests it is evening, and the long shadows cast by the two men outside the building reinforce this impression, and the gold highlights on the figures, statuary, and architecture, all lend a feeling that the sun’s light is turning golden towards sunset. These lighting effects, and especially the shadows, are reminiscent of the long-mysterious Master of the Livre du cuer d’amours espris (Book of the Love-infatuated Heart), now believed to be Barthélemy d’Eyck, court painter to René of Anjou.
The finely painted yet curiously silver-grey face of the elegant youth to the right of the composition is extremely reminiscent of works by Jean Colombe of Tours, the likely place of origin of the present miniature.
This miniature appeared on the market in 2013 with several other cuttings from the same manuscript, in matching frames; the number 475 on the back of the present miniature, and equivalent numbers 468–477 on the sister cuttings, suggests that they were hung as part of a picture-gallery of significant size.