Duke of Brittany ‘asked to paint over from his first wife’ in 15th-century manuscript

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Duke Francis I of Brittany had an illustration of his first wife repainted into a 15th-century manuscript with a photo of his new bride, a new study shows.

The Duke made the change to Hours of Isabella Stuart, a Book of Hours, a Christian devotional book popular in the Middle Ages, completed in 1431.

Cambridge University researchers used non-invasive analytical techniques to identify pigments and reveal sketches beneath the paintings.

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The Hours of Isabella Stuart, currently held at the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge University

The Hours of Isabella Stuart, currently held at the Fitzwilliam Museum at Cambridge University

THE HOURS OF ISABELLA STUART

The 15th-century manuscript is a Book of Hours, an illustrated prayer book commissioned by the wealthy, and is called The Hours Of Isabella Stuart.

The manuscript, written in Latin, was ordered in 1431 by the mother of the first wife of Duke Francis I of Brittany.

It was a wedding gift to the Duke’s first wife, the Duchess of Anjou, Yolande of Aragon, that year. She died in 1440.

The Hours Of Isabella Stuart is an ‘absolute masterpiece of enlightenment,’ said Dr. Suzanne Reynolds of Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

She said it was one of the most elaborately decorated books of hours in existence.

The manuscript was donated to the museum by founder Richard Fitzwilliam after his death in 1816.

It will be featured in the Fitzwilliam Museum’s new exhibition The Human Touch that opens Tuesday, May 18.

The book is made of parchment (dried goat or calf hide), gold, ink and egg tempera.

Staff at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, where the book is currently housed, “noticed something strange was going on.”

Co-curator Dr. Suzanne Reynolds said a “darker area” was noticed on a page, “so it was decided to use infrared and see what was going on there.”

“Then the signature was revealed,” said Dr. Reynolds.

The Hours of Isabella Stuart is one of the most extensively illustrated books of hours in existence, featuring a unique, personalized combination of images and texts.

It was built in 1431 by the mighty patron of the arts, the Duchess of Anjou, Yolande of Aragon (1381-1442).

She gave the book to her daughter, Yolande of Anjou (1412-1440), on the occasion of her wedding to the future Duke Francis I of Brittany in 1431 (1414-1450).

After Yolande died in 1440, the duke remarried Isabella Stuart (1427-1494) on October 29, 1442 and had the manuscript modified.

Kneeling before the Virgin, Yolande was painted over and replaced by his new wife, Isabella. Isabella’s coat of arms was also painted in each corner of the decorated edges.

Scientists also found that Breton artists working in Nantes had adapted and added illuminations for Isabella and later her daughter Margaret (1443-1469).

Variations in the underdrawings helped distinguish the original artists based in Angers, but the use of different pigments has confirmed the changes and additions in Nantes.

“It’s a very exciting discovery,” said Dr. Reynolds.

The page is subject to the researchers' analysis.  Note the weapon added to all four points on the page.  This is Isabella's coat of arms

The page is subject to the researchers’ analysis. Note the weapon added to all four points on the page. This is Isabella’s coat of arms

Close-up of Isabella's coat of arms painted in each corner of the decorated edges

Close-up of Isabella’s coat of arms painted in each corner of the decorated edges

These books are, in a sense, like archaeological sites, and when you begin to discover what lies beneath these images, it actually reveals the human story of how these books were commissioned and then transferred from one person to another as the story of these different marriages and different dynastic alliances formed. ‘

It was discovered that the overcoating was done in two stages.

During the first phase, Isabella’s face and heraldic dress were painted over Yolande’s and the figure of Saint Catherine was added behind her in blue robes.

A whole page from the manuscript, featuring the Virgin with the Child, St Catherine (far left) and Isabella Stuart (in red coat), the new bride

A whole page from the manuscript, featuring the Virgin with the Child, St Catherine (far left) and Isabella Stuart (in red coat), the new bride

The red of Isabella’s ermine-lined coat is vermilion, the same pigment used for her coat of arms in the rim.

Meanwhile, the original red elsewhere on the page – in the main image, the marginal thumbnail and the floral border – is lead red.

St Catherine’s clothing was dyed in organic pink and ultramarine insect-based blue, except for the dark, oval area behind Isabella’s head that was dyed in azurite instead. It hides Yolande’s headdress, which Isabella kept at first.

During the second phase of the repainting, the headdress was covered with azurite and Isabella’s ducal crown painted over it.

Close-up of Isabella's duke.  The staff at the Fitzwilliam Museum

Close-up of Isabella’s duke. The staff at the Fitzwilliam Museum “noticed that something strange was going on” with the book, so it was examined in the lab. Researchers noticed a darker area on the page, indicating some type of change

With the original signature, with the Virgin's cloak reaching to the brim, the kneeling figure of first wife Yolande with large headdress

With the original signature, with the Virgin’s cloak reaching to the brim, the kneeling figure of first wife Yolande with large headdress

Close-up of the Saint Catherine's rug, dyed in organic pink based on insects.  St Catherine was added during the renovation

Close-up of the Saint Catherine’s rug, dyed in organic pink based on insects. St Catherine was added during the renovation

The Hours of Isabella Stuart was donated to the Fitzwilliam Museum by founder Richard Fitzwilliam after his death in 1816.

It is part of the founding collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, bequeathed by Fitzwilliam and as such must never leave the museum.

The 15th century medieval manuscript is part of a new exhibition opening to the public on Tuesday, May 18 until August 1 of this year.

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