Book of Hours of Louis of Orleans

Book of Hours of Louis of Orleans f. 33v, Nones: the Presentation in the Temple


f. 33v, Nones: the Presentation in the Temple

From this miniature onwards, with the exception of the miniature on folio 36r, none of those covering a full page – which distinguish the different offices or canonical hours – have a decorative border but merely, apart from certain exceptions, the frame divided into two sections. The golden frame, highly classicist in appearance, consists of two Corinthian- order, golden columns featuring ram’s heads instead of volutes. The shaft with cameo decoration is an attempt to represent an item of metal work by means of what is apparently a series of reliefs spiralling upwards. Standing on top of the capitals are the statues of two warriors in armour like those that had appeared previously in Les très riches heures du duc de Berry (ff. 95r, 100v) and which were to continue to be seen throughout this manuscript. Resting upon the columns is a round arch. The illustration shows the inside of the Temple of Jerusalem conceived of as a building that combines Gothic and classicist elements – mainly in the decoration. Hence the shaft of the column closest to the viewer features a ribbon coiling upwards around it that forms areas in which purely decorative reliefs are engraved: an old man, a cock and plant motifs. The second column topped by a Corinthian capital has a series of reliefs that are also decorative spiralling upwards. The last column, also Corinthian, bears the many ribs of a late fifteenth-century, Gothic vault. A round, golden altar can be seen in the background, beneath a circular ciborium, to convey the solemnity of the ceremony, very similar to the ones in Romuléon (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. fr. 364, ff. 150r, 294r and 302v). Behind the altar stands a round arch supported by Corinthian pilasters that leads to a recess with a scallop-shaped moulding. The recesses portrayed in this book of hours do not, generally speaking, convey an impression of depth. The socle around the walls is full of reliefs – as is typical of Jean Colombe’s work – and overhead are paired openings consisting of round arches occupied by transparent glass. The perspective makes this building look narrow. The Virgin Mary can be seen inside holding the Infant Jesus in swaddling clothes. From now on, the Virgin Mary figure changes for one with a smaller head and more childlike traits. She is accompanied by three women with lit candles: attributes that refer to the purification of the Mother of Christ, which began to appear occasionally between the 12th and 13th centuries, as, for example, in a stained-glass window in Chartres Cathedral depicting the Virgin accompanied by three maidens, two of whom bear lit candles, which from the 14th century onwards was part of the scene of the Presentation in the Temple, particularly in the German area. Simeon, shown with a mitre although he was not a high priest, takes St Joseph by the left hand. Two other figures behind the group look on. The bottom section portrays the three women, the Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus with St Joseph and a basket containing two doves on their way to the Temple. All of them are shown as busts – as in the Adoration of the Shepherd – hence this painting is in line with modern pictorial concepts, but is relegated to a secondary plane in both thematic and formal terms. It must be emphasised that Jean Colombe did not portray the full figures, but showed only their torsos in accordance with the pictorial trends of the 15th century whose intention was to portray a scene focussing on the essence of its contents rather than on anecdotic and devotional elements.
The Presentation of the Boy Jesus in the Temple was depicted in Jean Colombe’s atelier in a highly unusual manner: although Our Lady and Jesus occupy virtually the centre of the composition, just beneath the altar with its recesses featuring scallop-shaped mouldings, Simeon does not seem to pay very much attention to the arrival of Christ and concentrates on welcoming St Joseph, which is not usual in this iconography, whilst the Virgin Mary hands her son over to the priest.
The fact that the Child Jesus is shown in swaddling clothes may be a reference to the mortality of Christ when sacrificed subsequently. The two doves in the basket refer to Leviticus 12: 8: “quod si non invenerit manus eius nec potuerit offerre agnum sumet duos turtures vel duos pullos columbae unum in holocaustum et alterum pro peccato orabitque pro ea sacerdos et sic mundabitur”.

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