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The Hours of Simon de Varie.

James H. Marrow, with Francois Avril. Malibu: J. Paul Getty Museum, in association with Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague, 1994. 72 colt pls. + 48 b/w pls. + xii + 256 pp. $95.

Around 1450, the Frenchman Simon de Varie commissioned a Book of Hours from two of the most popular illuminators working in mid-century France. Unpretentious in size (3 3/4 x 5"), the manuscript nevertheless approached a certain level of luxury; its two anonymous artists -- baptized by modern scholars as the Chief Associate of the Bedford Master and the Master of Jean Rolin II -- painted some forty-five large and twenty-nine small illustrations. Somewhat unusual is the generous number of miniatures devoted to the suffrages, prayers to individual saints. Simon was apparently not content with his book, however, because he paid Jean Fouquet, a truly first-rate artist who worked on both panel and vellum for the royal court, to "tart up" his prayer book by adding six pictures at the front. Three of these pictures are purely heraldic; two form a diptych with a kneeling Simon praying to the Virgin and Child. The last miniature presents a second Virgin and Child (the series may not be complete). The pictures accompany no text, and, with their emphasis on Simon's coat-of-arms, motto, and personal devices, they form a kind of heraldic frontispiece the purpose of which was for Simon to flash at those friends or enemies he wanted to impress.

Sometime in the seventeenth century Simon's Book of Hours was dismembered and bound into separate parts, presumably by a dealer who knew, even at this early date for the collecting of illumination, that he could profit by such a division. In the nineteenth century, two volumes reached The Hague. The first (MS 74 G 37) came in 1816, ceded to the recently founded Royal Library by King William I. Nearly seventy-five years later, in 1890, that Library bought what was to prove to be the second part of the manuscript (MS 74 G 37a). Nearly a hundred years later still, in 1983, James Marrow recognized a third portion, then in a private California collection; two years later the J. Paul Getty Museum acquired it as a partial gift (MS 7).

The Getty's facsimile reproduces all the miniatures from all three volumes of Simon's Hours in color and in their original sequence. Having held the facsimile right next to the original section in Malibu I can report that the color plates are excellent. The ever-so-slightly fuzzy look of most is not a defect but a faithful reproduction of both the Bedford Associate and Rolin Master's painterly style. These are some of the best reproductions of Fouquet's illuminations ever printed, and his are especially difficult miniatures to replicate because he used gold as a color, applying it in fine, highlighting lines. (The facsimile does not yet exist that can offer the magical glittering effect of binocular viewing a single surface decorated with gold that inevitably reflects light differently to each eye.) The exemplary essays by James Marrow and Francois Avril make them a model of lucidity and conciseness.

Is anything wrong with this publication? Perhaps only its size. At 5 1/4" x 7 3/4, the book surrounds each reproduced leaf with 1" to 2 1/4" of empty space. The miniatures look a little dwarfed on the page. Understandably, reducing the publication to the size of the original manuscript would have necessitated printing the commentaries and ancillary black-and-white illustrations in a microscopic size, but it does mean that these considerations outweighed those concerning the best possible reproduction of the manuscript itself.

The Getty Museum sees the publication of reasonably priced facsimiles as part of their educational mission. The paucity of such valuable (and enjoyable) monographs being published in recent years makes their endeavor in this field even more laudable.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Renaissance Society of America
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Wieck, Roger S.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1996
Words:635
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