Artists of Northern Europe, Flemish primitives, Illuminated manuscripts, portrait miniature, Symbols and emblems

Easter Day and Mary Magdalene Sees the Risen Lord

But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”

Attrib. Master of the Chronique scandaleuse (French, active about 1493 – 1510)
Noli me tangere, about 1500, Tempera colors, ink and gold on parchment
Leaf: 13.3 × 8.7 cm (5 1/4 × 3 7/16 in.), Ms. 109 (2011.40), fol. 130v
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. 109, fol. 130v

Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”

She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher)

Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’ ” (St John 20: 11-17)

This traditional image of Mary Magdalene comes from a book of hours in the Getty Museum, Los Angeles, created in 1500 for Denise Poncher, the daughter of the treasurer of Wars for the French king, Louis XII (1462-1515).  Because of the many allusions to marriage and motherhood it is thought this devotional book was a wedding gift for Mademoiselle Poncher on the occasion of her marriage to Jean Brosset.  

The small and completely intact book contains the usual Hours of the Virgin, the Hours of the Cross and the Hours of the Holy Spirit.  What makes it unusual is that it also contains The Hours of the Conception and other illuminations contain many visual references to marriage and motherhood.  

The pretty bride is seen in this full page illumination kneeling and holding a prayer book. It clearly isn’t this one as it is too big.  

Master of the Chronique scandaleuse (French, active about 1493 – 1510)
Denise Poncher before a Vision of Death, about 1500, Tempera colors, ink and gold on parchment
Leaf: 13.3 × 8.7 cm (5 1/4 × 3 7/16 in.), Ms. 109 (2011.40), fol. 156
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. 109, fol. 156

A rotting cadaver that is Death looms over the beautiful Denise as he steps towards her over, or perhaps even standing on, the single male member of the party having already taken the souls of her four companions.  Death holds four scythes and a feathered shaft of a gigantic arrow. Are those four scythes for the four people shown here? Is the giant arrow a reference to the fleeting time passing of life and that eventually Death will come to the kneeling bride? Considering the unusual inclusion of the Hours of the Conception, is this also a grisly reminder of what might lie ahead when Denise becomes pregnant and goes into labour?  As we look on it, it is certainly a reminder of our own fragile mortality as the virulent and deadly Covid 19 virus is sweeping across the world.

Another member of the Poncher family, Etienne de Poncher (1446-1524), also held high office, becoming bishop of Paris in 1503 at the insistence of King Louis XII.  Since both Denise’s father and Etienne de Poncher had access to the most skilled illuminators and calligraphers it is possible that either her parents or Etienne de Poncher were the commissioner of this beautifully illuminated book of hours.  

Four artists were involved in creating the beautiful illuminations seen on many pages of this devotional book. They are Jean Pichore (d1521), the Master of the Chronique Scandaleuse, The Master of Cardinal Bourbon and The Master of Jacques de Besançon.

Resurrection & Revelation to Mary Magdalene: f168v Royal 16 G III British Library

This book titled “La vie de notre seigneur Jhesucrist, La Vengance de la mort Jhesu Christ”, was first listed in a 1535 inventory of books and documents in the royal library of Richmond Palace and was the brainchild of Jean Aubert, accountant and calligrapher to Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (1396-1467).  Aubert conceived the story and his son, David Aubert (born before 1413 – c1479) transcribed it into French. The artist is known as the Master of the Flemish Boethius who has combined Christ’s Resurrection and His first appearance to Mary Magdalene into this split image of the first Easter Day. 

Resurrection: Royal 16G III f168v (Dimensions 38.5 x 27.5 cmx (15.15 x 10.8 ins). (French 1490).

The scene showing the moment of Christ’s resurrection from the tomb does not include angels as described in allof the four Gospels, but instead three soldiers are shocked by the sudden appearance of Jesus, who steps over the edge of the sepulchre with his hand raised in blessing.  Two walled cities are shown in the middle distance; one separated from the other by a body of water and more water can be seen separating the far mountains from the two cities.  The verdant countryside shows a significant number of tops of trees also in the middle distance, which tells us the tomb was in a high place, but not as high as the cliff to the right of this little image.

Detail of f168vabove.

Unlike Saints Luke and John, St Mark is not precise in describing where Jesus first appears to Mary Magdalene.  The artist, The Master of the Flemish Boethius, has clearly taken verse 9 of Chapter 16 of St Mark’s Gospel as his inspiration, which says  Now when Jesus was risen early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils” (King James version), which is not specific as to where they first meet.  Here the artist has depicted Christ’s appearance to the Magdalene taking place in a contemporary 15th century Flemish domestic space rather than the more usual outdoor scene as portrayed in the Poncher Book of Hours created some ten years later in 1500. However, since the woman is wearing a gown of blue, the Master of the Flemish Boethius may actually had taken greater liberties with the text and shows us Jesus appearing first to his mother, the Virgin Mary. The Magdalene is more often traditionally portrayed as wearing green and red, with blue being the preserve of Mary the Virgin. I am sure that this has been discussed in an academic paper somewhere. I just haven’t found it, so apologies if anyone thinks I am stealing their research; it is not intentional.

David Aubert produced various romances and books for Duke Philip and, after the duke’s death in 1467, Aubert continued to work for his successor, Charles the Bold and his wife Margaret of York, for whom he created an Histoire de Charles Martel, the Frankish king who defeated the Arab invasion of France at the Battle of Tours on 19th October in 732. Declared a decisive Frankish victory it is likely the filthy cold and wet autumn had a lot to do with making the leaders of Arab army decide to turn tail and retreat across the Pyrenees to Spain rather than stay in the cold, damp and very muddy north.  For Margaret of York herself, Aubert wrote The Visions of Tondal illuminated by the great Simon Marmion (also in the Getty, Los Angeles). His other patrons included  Philippe de Croy and Antoine de Bourgogne (Philip the Good’s natural son) who became Aubert’s main client.  

We know from Aubert’s colophon this illuminated book on the life of Christ was written in Ghent in 1479 as it appears on folio 212: “Cy fini le traittie Intitule / La Vengance. Escript par / david aubert en la bonne / ville de gand Lan de grace / mil cccc lxxix’ and, therefore, may have been one of his last pieces of work.

These are two illuminated manuscripts that are known to those who study such things, but because of the quality of the images they deserve to be known to a wider audience.  The links below will take you to the Getty Museum website and the British Library where you can click on the various illuminated pages to see them in more detail.  All museums, galleries and archives remain shut during this pandemic, but luckily we are able to visit them digitally and see their collections. Thank you to both the British Library and the Getty Museum for having such wonderful digital collections.

To all of you, stay safe and well.

The Poncher Book of Hours: Getty Museum http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/255028/master-of-the-chronique-scandaleuse-jean-pichore-master-of-cardinal-bourbon-et-al-poncher-hours-french-about-1500/?artview=dor234514

Royal Ms 16 G III: The British Library. https://www.bl.uk/catalogues/illuminatedmanuscripts/record.asp?MSID=7980&CollID=16&NStart=160703  

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