Poor Tournai! A decade ago Albert Châtelet demonstrated that Van der Weyden’s Seven Sacraments Altar, long regarded as one of the city’s most important fifteenth-century works, had actually been painted for Poligny, in distant Franche-Comté (“Roger van der Weyden et le lobby polinois,” Revue de l’art, 84, 1989, pp. 9-21). Now along comes Dominique Vanwijnsberghe’s monograph devoted to Tournai’s illuminators which, in its opening chapter demolishes the locally-cherished picture of Tournai as home to a number of important manuscript illuminators and patrons. Jean Tavernier? A native of Audenarde, whose documented time in Tournai has left no recognized extant works. Simon Marmion? Though received as a master at Tournai in 1468, he was trained in Amiens and lived in Valenciennes; he became a master at Tournai solely to have access to the city’s market. Even the town’s bibliophilic bishops, Jean Chevrot, Guillaume Fillastre, and Ferry de Clugny, were Burgundian impositions on the loyal French city; they preferred to live elsewhere, and that is where they bought their manuscripts too. Finishing the first chapter, the reader is tempted to quote Jeremiah: How doth the city sit solitary, which once was full of people.
But if the author takes away with his first chapter, he repopulates the city in the remainder of the book. With its focus on Tournai, it is a fine addition to the flourishing study of book production in single cities, joining the company of works like François Avril and Nicole Reynaud’s Les manuscrits à peintures en France, 1440-1520 (Paris, 1993), Susie Nash’s Between France and Flanders: Manuscript Illumination in Amiens (London, 1999), Richard and Mary Rouse’s Manuscripts and their Makers: Commercial Book Production in Medieval Paris, 1200-1500 (Turnhout, 2000; reviewed in this journal, May 2002, pp. 14-15), and Elizabeth Burin’s Manuscript Illumination in Lyons, 1473-1530 (Turnhout, 2001).
Vanwijnsberghe’s study is not principally devoted to surviving manuscripts, though the book is illustrated with 127 black-and-white plates of manuscripts from Tournai and elsewhere. Instead, he uses archival sources, published and unpublished, to document the supply of and demand for illumination in Tournai. Supply is addressed in the book’s second section; here, he studies references to manuscripts in the wills and executors’ reports from Tournai. He analyzes 243 such documents from 1303 to 1499 and, in a typical example of the author’s generosity, publishes all the relevant passages in the ‘pièces justificatives’, along with indices of owners, authors and titles. Vanwijnsberghe notes that the documents as a whole hold no major surprises: most mention only one or two books, usually books of hours and/or psalters. A reasonable number include secular works (nine references to the Roman de la Rose, for example); professionals like doctors and notaries owned books related to their profession; and a few people had large libraries. In short, Vanwijnsberghe says that the pattern of book-ownership is that of any substantial city of the day. Additionally, he notes that this evidence does not cast a bright light on book illumination in Tournai. First, because the documents do not specify if the books were made in Tournai, and second, because only very rarely do they mention a book’s decoration.
But if Tournai’s book owners are as a group typical, the documents Vanwijnsberghe publishes teem with fascinating details. Like donors to modern museums, those who left books to religious institutions were keen that they not be deaccessioned; several wills state their gifts cannot be sold (nos. 83 and 189). Jakemes dou Casteler, a priest at Notre-Dame, used his gift to convert his breviary into a sort of personal memorial; both his wills (nos. 39 and 44, written in 1359 and 1364) specify that his breviary was to be chained to his stall in the choir of the church; thus his ‘companions’ would read his book in the place he once occupied. Similarly, Jehan de Lannoit, a chapelain at Saint-Brice, had his breviary chained to the wall by his tomb (no. 160). The bond between the book and its owner in these comparatively modest wills recalls Emperor Charles IV’s request for one of Charles V of France’s books of hours, so that he could pray for the king in one of the king’s own books. Though few wills describe a book’s decoration, there are occasional appreciative adjectives; like Jean de Berry, for example, Marie Oliviere had a ‘belles heures de Nostre Dame’ (which she left to her sister-in-law, no. 108). There are frequent references to ‘mes bonnes heures’, and one to ‘mes milleurs heures’ (no. 147), but no Shakespearean ‘second-best’ hours. Some of the references make one long for easier access to the entire wills, which would place the books in a broader material context: learning that the estate of Jehan Danvaing, a tanner, included a bible in French (no. 76), it is impossible not to ask what else he left behind. There is also the curious fact that the few extant wills of members of the book trade make no mention of books (nos. 190, 205): can we conclude that book illuminators were not book owners? Thus Vanwijnsberghe realizes his goal of sparking other inquiries into the illuminated book in Tournai.
In his next section the author turns from Tournai’s book-owners to its book-decorators, using two documents to examine the structures of their professional life. The earlier of the two is the Registre des inscriptions a la corporation des peintres et verriers, started in 1423, which lists master and apprentice illuminators. The second source is the Ordonnances faictes pour les paintres et voiriers de la ville et cite de Tournai of 1480 (printed in full in the ‘pièces justificatives’). These Ordonnances codified the business practices of painters at a time when they felt their professional well-being was vulnerable to outside competition. Vanwijnsberghe aptly characterizes the Ordonnances as documenting a professional ideal, while the Register and other archival sources reveal the less than ideal reality. Both documents originated with the Corporation des peintres et verriers, founded in 1423 when political reform in Tournai permitted trades to organize. Arrayed under the banner of the goldsmiths, the Corporation included manuscript illuminators (and painters of playing cards). Vanwijnsberghe points out that illuminators in Flemish cities usually faced two possibilities: they could affiliate with painters or with scribes and book makers. In Tournai, significantly, the small scale of book production meant that there was no organization of scribes or ‘libraires’, so the illuminators wound up in the Corporation of Painters.
Vanwijnsberghe’s analysis of these documents leads to several conclusions. The Ordonnances reveal that illuminators’ subordination to the painters: while nothing kept painters from illuminating books, illuminators were forbidden to produce paintings. Ordonnance 40 called for fines on illuminators who executed works above a certain scale, or who worked on anything except books or ‘other things where there is writing.’ The author attributes their subordinate status to their smaller numbers; the Register records 107 master painters from 1423 to 1500, but only 25 master illuminators. If the illuminators’ smaller numbers denied them authority, however, it also gained them some flexibility: at two years, the illuminator’s apprenticeship was half the length of the painters, and this is but one example of their shorter, less burdensome training.
Moving from the ideal to the real, Vanwijnsberghe makes some valuable observations on illuminators’ careers. First, the path from apprenticeship to mastery was not as quick as the Ordonnances would have it. On average, illuminators waited over six years from the end of their apprenticeship to attaining the title of master. Additionally, his data contradicts the stereotype of medieval crafts being passed within families: although members’ children were treated favorably by the Corporation, there are no dynasties of Tournai illuminators, but instead ‘a flagrant lack of continuity’ (p. 144).
Finally, Vanwijnsberghe provides a ‘répertoire biographique’ with entries on 124 illuminators, scribes, binders, and parchment makers whose activity can be documented in Tournai from 1275 to 1560. The ‘répertoire’ draws on the Register and a great deal of industrious research in archival and secondary sources. As with the wills, the short biographies offer much interesting information. For example, Tournai’s documented illuminators include four priests and one minor noble, and the city also had at least one female parchment seller. Only a few of the artisans listed can be connected with extant books made in Tournai, and these are mostly scribes known from their colophons, and binders known by their marks.
In conclusion, ‘De fin or et d’azur’ has put the study of Tournai’s illuminators on a sound documentary footing. What is more, Vanwijnsberghe has promised another, more object-focused art historical study of manuscripts produced in Tournai from 1380 to 1430. His two books will then serve as pendants, permitting us to understand illumination in Tournai on a more scholarly and systematic basis than ever before. They are also bound to spark new attributions to Tournai’s illuminators, and these will certainly be more reliable than the wishful thinking Vanwijnsberghe discards in chapter 1. Lucky Tournai!