Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies
October 1, 1998
Anne van Buren, James Marrow, and Silvana Pettenati Heures de Turin-Milan Lucerne: Commentary Lucerne, 1996. 703 pp.; 8 color ills.; 163 b/w ills.

The appearance of a facsimile volume (costing around six thousand dollars) of the celebrated, partially destroyed “Turin-Milan Hours” (Turin, Museo Civico d’Arte Antico, inv. no. 47) is reason enough to rejoice for scholars, who would otherwise probably never have close contact with these celebrated miniatures, some of which (controversially) have been attributed to Jan van Eyck. Now there is still more reason for celebration: the accompanying commentary volume has appeared in three languages (nothing like having a Swiss publisher!). In addition to providing basic, small illustrations of all the images in the original manuscript (including the Paris folios of what was known in the inventories of Jean de Berry as the “Très Belles Heures de Notre-Dame”), this volume also has comparative photos, e.g. of “Eyckian” comparisons, as well as some images made with infrared reflectography, chiefly to accompany the longest essay of the volume, by Anne Hagopian van Buren. To have van Buren and Marrow, America’s two leading manuscript specialists of the period, as well as Pettenati, involved in this evaluation makes this Commentary truly a volume of lasting importance.

Specialists with this manuscript will know of its century-long vicissitudes, which parallel the checkered history of its making over a span of almost half of the fifteenth century. The work was an unusually elaborate Book of Hours, commissioned by the foremost maecenas of that art form in the latter days of manuscripts, Jean de Berry, as the “Très Belles Heures,” probably around 1389 according to van Buren, whose dating relies in part on careful study of costume fashion. By 1405–6 (and surely before 1413, the date of an inventory that omits it from among the duke’s prized possessions) the work was already broken up and possibly given away as a gift, presumably to another court. Its original artists surely comprised the leading painters of the French court, possibly including Jean d’Orléans, the Maelwel brothers, and the renowned Limbourg Brothers in an earlier phase of their production, before the more familiar and celebrated works, such as the “Très Riches Heures,” almost a decade later. The main parts of this portion of the manuscript, which remained in France, wound up in Paris at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (Ms. Nouv. Acq. Lat 3093; reproduced in facsimile with commentary by Eberhard König in 1992).

Remaining portions of the manuscript, presumably for the most part unfinished, came into the possession of John, Duke of Bavaria, at the court in The Hague, where he reigned as the count of Holland during the early 1420s. Indeed, the arms of Hainault and Holland, reversed, appear in the standard carried by a mounted nobleman at the shore in a famous folio (destroyed; Turin, fo. 59v). Here the story gets complicated, because among the court artists on the roster of John of Bavaria in Holland was Jan van Eyck, and a number of miniatures associated with his naturalistic style form part of this segment of the larger manuscript. Collectively they are known as the Turin-Milan Hours. Some other miniatures, related to the later works in painting by Jan van Eyck, seem to have been added to the manuscript as late as the 1440s or even 1450s.

In the late nineteenth century, those folios that had made their way to Turin (Bibliotteca Nazionale) were discovered by Léopold Delisle and Paul Durrieu; after being photographed in 1902, they perished in a fire in 1904. At the same time, Georges Hulin de Loo discovered additional folios from the Dutch phase of the manuscript in Milan (Biblioteca Trivulziana), and these gave rise to the nickname “Turin-Milan Hours,” by which the manuscript is still known, even though the Milan folios found their way (by tortuous circumstances recounted by Pettenati) to their current residence in Turin (so that the manuscript could well be known literally as the “Turin-Turin Hours”).

So much for the facts. But as Mies (not Meiss) has warned us, the devil is in the details, and for that meticulous assessment, both of the manuscript’s history and of its codicology as well as analysis of individual folios and suggestions of artistic identity, we now have the thoughtful evaluations by Anne van Buren. She clarifies the likelihood that the figure on the shore in the lost miniature from Turin was John of Bavaria, rather than his predecessor William VI (d. 1417), again using costume to reinforce her other arguments. And she has quite properly separated out two earlier miniatures from the Eyckian era of the Turin-Milan group, which despite their high quality offer an earlier idiom, associated with Liège (where John of Bavaria was bishop before leaving for Holland in 1417): The Finding of the Crosses, and the Virgin among Virgins (Turin fo. 59; Milan fo. 118). Convincingly she connects these images in general to the relatively isolated but familiar early work, the “Norfolk Triptych.” The kinship between these works and the Ghent Altarpiece raises anew the spectre of Hubert van Eyck, whom van Buren alleges made the underdrawing designs of the polyptych. This issue is too complex to take up here but certainly can be argued against; changes of plan need not imply changes of artist. Nonetheless, van Buren boldly goes on to associate these Eyckian early miniatures with Hubert as a logical if hypothetical explanation for the evident connection between Turin-Milan and the Ghent Altarpiece. This leads to the further hypothesis that Jan van Eyck might have begun his work on the manuscript with the related but distinctive Betrayal of Christ page (Turin fo. 24), which is related in turn to an earlier, silverpoint image in the British Museum (attributed by van Buren also to Hubert).

As will be evident from these salvos, van Buren’s assignment of artist identity here is marked by temerity rather than timidity; yet she has skillfully interwoven extant comparative works as well as a considerable knowledge of available data, ranging from archival references to artists to those meticulous costume details that so often assist her in dating. Although costume certainly is a sensitive barometer for precise moments of changing fashion, yet a skeptic might well recall that the evidence for costume always comes from images, and in this period the dates of images are notoriously poorly established (not to mention the possible danger of circular reasoning).

With the active involvement of Jan van Eyck with both John of Bavaria and the Turin-Milan Hours fragment, it is relatively straightforward to imagine the artist at work on the miniatures from before the earliest documented activity (August 1422) and closer to the establishment of the court in The Hague in 1420. Van Buren reminds us of the presumably contemporary lost van Eyck original of a Hunting and Fishing Party, preserved in a large colored drawing (Louvre), and she rechristens the principals as John of Bavaria and Elisabeth of Görlitz in the first surviving Dutch group portrait.

Those observers for nearly a century who have seen the hand of Jan van Eyck in some of the most glorious and innovative miniatures of the Turin-Milan Hours are supported by the scenario of van Buren, who likewise assumes that these works date from the early career of the artist, i.e. before his main painted works. For example, she joins a consensus of critics in assigning The Birth of the Baptist (Milan, fo. 93v) to Jan in this 1420s period (she argues more precisely for the year 1424, the last year of the duke’s life), and she sees costumes here as consonant with the scene on the shore. The staging of such scenes accords with the painter’s small figure works, characterized by van Buren as “not figures in a setting, but a setting with figures” (314). And she sees it emerging from related Jan panels, such as the New York diptych, also datable from costume to the mid-1420s (though she also acknowledges its kinship to the figures and techniques of the background of the Rolin Madonna, which she dates to before 1432, against the consensus, once more on the basis of costume). Yet to this observer, the overall space in the Birth of the Baptist miniature is unthinkable apart from the domestic interior (there rather more prosaic both in its recession and viewpoint) of the 1434 London Arnolfini Wedding panel. And van Buren also dates the Berlin Madonna in a Church after 1439, despite its obvious resemblance to another miniature associated with van Eyck, the Mass for the Dead in a church (Milan, fo. 116). There is further corroboration for Eyckian miniatures in the Holland phase of his career, chiefly later influences and copies in Dutch manuscripts (315), and the lost Eyckian Way to Calvary (best copy, Budapest) probably originated in this ambience.

Jan van Eyck thus only completed four pages for John of Bavaria, probably in 1424, and these are the scenes usually associated with him (or “Hand G” in the scholarly tradition). Van Buren also acknowledges that a sixth campaign to finish the prayerbook began around 1440, in the Bruges of van Eyck at the end of his career. She is especially exacting in the rearrangements and new additions to the manuscript at this point, and she suggests the intervention of a clerical adviser for the typological subtleties of iconography. The unknown patron is clearly a member of the Burgundian court of Philip the Good, and he appears several times in the lost Turin pages. Van Buren hypothesizes the name of Frank van Borselen, a Zeeland nobleman who had been John’s treasurer but later became an adherent of the new ruler, Philip the Good. At this point the mysterious third van Eyck brother, Lambert, enters the picture as well, not only as Jan’s executor but presumably as his artistic heir. This is also the moment when she believes that Eyckian imitations were produced, such as the Philadelphia replica (which she judges as less subtle but claims came from Jan’s shop) of the Turin St. Francis. Their author is the second finest master of Turin-Milan: “Hand H,” with his fine technique but insistence on “trivial” detail, now to be redubbed “The Master of the Philadelphia St. Francis,” but temptingly possible as Lambert van Eyck. To this reviewer the Hand H style more closely resembles the style of van Buren’s Eyckian follower, the Master of the Berlin Crucifixion. (Regrettably this painting was not sent to the recent 1998 Philadelphia/Turin exhibition, Recognizing van Eyck, where the title might have had more true significance if it had been there.) Van Buren also ascribes the Detroit St. Christopher to the same master, rather than Petrus Christus (itself imitated in Turin, fo. 73v).

For part of this latter Bruges campaign as well as the “final campaign” in that city later in the decade of the 1440s (dated, again from costume, by van Buren ca. 1446 and assigned to the close circle of Philip the Good), a number of professional miniaturists participated. One of them, the Chevrot Master, adapter of the St. Jerome into St. Thomas for the Turin miniature, is also credited with a pair of Eyckian pictures, the Frick Sacred Conversation as well as the Madrid Fountain of Life. Careful observation of individual compositions leads van Buren to emphasize extensive repainting in many miniatures, in part to make the appearance of the book more homogeneous, itself a new ambition for book illumination.

If this review has focused principally on the implication for Jan van Eyck studies of van Buren’s bold and provocative scenarios (and even compressed the richness of those), it has only followed the tendency of most Turin-Milan Hours scholarship and tried to note the major new arguments. Yet it is worth underscoring how carefully van Buren’s codicology and history of the manuscript—along with Marrow’s elegant appreciation of the shifts from the late medieval to early modern sensibility over the course of the production of his epochal miniatures as well as the startling incorporation of the different sensibilities of panel painters into the realm of miniatures—remains tied to the book and its remarkable illustrations. This Commentary can hardly be the final word on attribution issues and Eyckian scholarship, but it is the fundamental resource for using the modern facsimile and for understanding this great book.

Larry Silver
Farquhar Professor of History of Art, Department of the History of Art, University of Pennsylvania