The Isabella Breviary

The Isabella Breviary f. 437r, Apology of the coronation of Queen Isabella - The Crowning of Our Lady


f. 437r, Apology of the coronation of Queen Isabella - The Crowning of Our Lady

This image, facing the previous one and covering one third of the folio, belongs to the second period of work on the codex and is by Gérard Horenbout. The decorative border against a golden ground is of the strewn-flower type, with butterflies on some flowers: a common border in the Ghent and Bruges school. However, it must have been after its completion that a legend in golden letters on a reddish-brown ground was added in which ambassador Francisco de Rojas offers the codex to queen Isabella, addressing her as Diva and queen of the Spains and Sicily, Diue Elisabeth hispaniar [um] et Siscilie Regine ze xpianissi [m] e poten -tissi [m] e semp [er] augus-/te, supreme D[omi]ne/sue clementissime/Franciscus de Roias eiusde[m] ma-/iestatis hu[m]i-/limus seruus ac/creatura optime/de se merite H[ic]/marin [...] hi [...] ex/obsequio obtulit, which is incorrect as regards her title and governance since Spain as a unified state rather than a geographic entity did not exist until Carlos V’s reign. Furthermore, the title of monarch of Sicily was that of her husband, Ferdinand II of Aragon. At the bottom of the painting is the radiant coat of arms of Francisco de Rojas with his motto: five 8-point, azure stars on a gold field, azure and silver chequered border. The appearance of this coat of arms which, like the previous one and the text of the dedication, was added after the codex was completed, suggests that Francisco de Rojas owned and possibly commissioned it. Since certain elements indicate a Spanish patron, Rojas may possibly have intended to give it to queen Isabella.


The painting depicts the Holy Trinity crowning Our Lady. The Father and Son share the same throne and both have sceptres and hold the crown. The Son is shown as a young man seated on the Father’s right as in Psalm 109:1, whilst the Father has a papal tiara and older traits. Between them, above the throne, is the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove. The iconographic model represented is, therefore, that of the “Father and Son enthroned with the Dove in flight” in a horizontal layout. The origin of this iconography must be sought in images in reliefs and coins in the art of Byzantium or the Roman Empire featuring two or three emperors sitting next to each other, crowned by Victory. Our Lady is shown kneeling with her head and eyes downcast, in a three-quarter view with her hands joined. Our Lady crowned by the Holy Trinity began to appear towards the latter half of the 14th century, as shown by a drawing on vellum attributed to André Beauneveu (c. 1335-c. 1401). L. Réau distinguishes five types in the evolution of this iconographic theme, placing the type found in the Isabella Breviary in the fifth group, i.e. the model of Our Lady being crowned by the Trinity that appeared in France, Italy and the Hispanic kingdoms in the early 15th century and prevailed in all European art until the 17th century. This miniature is virtually identical to the one by Gérard Horenbout in the Rothschild Hours (f. 134v), forerunners of which are the Crowning of the Virgin dated 1496 by Michael Sittow (Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. RF 1966-ii) and particularly the crowning in the later Hours of Joanna I of Castile (London, The British Library, Add. Ms. 18851, f. 437) by Gérard Horenbout. The breviary has borrowed Our Lady’s gesture and the swollen clouds around the edge of the image from Sittow’s work, said to have influenced the Hours of Joanna I of Castile as regards not only the elements mentioned but also the heavenly messengers playing instruments, which are more varied in the breviary, having only a musical function: the angels play a viola da gamba (viol), a lute, a harp and a flute. However, the composition in the Hours of Joanna I of Castile, being a later work by Gérard Horenbout, is more ambitious and on a larger scale, suggesting it was produced later, around 1500.


The impact of this theme on literary creation in the eastern Church was considerable. In the Latin Church, Mary was mentioned for the first time as the queen of heaven in the 8th century in a sermon by Ambrose Autpert (died in 784). Since this author was the abbot of a monastery in Beneventum, he was in contact with eastern ideas on this subject. Immediately afterwards, later exegetes from the Latin Church, such as Peter the Deacon, Walafrid Strabo and Rabanus Maurus, developed this idea until its crystallisation by St Bernard and St Bonaventure.


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