The Ghent Privileges Master (fl. 1440-60) was first noticed by Friedrich Winkler in connection with the manuscript in Vienna (cod. 2583). Clark assembles an oeuvre for this artist and his successor, the Ghent Gradual Master, who worked up until c.1475 in the diocese of Tournai. As Clark’s title declares, this monographic study is part of a larger effort to document the art of Flemish manuscript illumination during the reign of Philip the Good (1419-1467). I can hardly do justice to Clark’s intricate and reasoned attributions since my speciality focuses elsewhere. Therefore I shall describe the book’s contents in some detail to disclose Clark’s impeccably detailed methods that are applicable to the study of any group of manuscripts.
Chapters I and II establish the style of the Privileges Master and the Gradual Master through the detailed discussion of individual miniatures. Figure captions allow the reader to locate the book in the thirty-nine item catalogue. Figures are mercifully organized by manuscript, allowing visual browsing. The style of the Privileges Master, traditional and somewhat hieratic, is further examined, along with the artist’s critical fortunes, in Chapter VI. The sources of composition and iconography are studied in Chapter III, most particularly earlier Paris illumination (Master of Boucicaut), the Master of Guillebert de Mets, and Amiens illumination in the 1430s and 1440s. Clark points out that the Privileges Master was aware of the work of the Master of Flémalle, Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, if only at a distance. Most significantly, Clark links the distinctive and rather odd, crowded and flattened compositions of the Privileges Master to tapestry design, and one tapestry in particular (Bern, Historisches Museum, inv. 10: Caesar Crossing the Rubicon), first noted by Betty Kurth in 1918.
Chapter IV describes the collaborators of the Privileges Master with Clark’s caveat that “efforts to separate hands may truly be as futile as attempting to use one’s own hands to part a body of water” (p. 124). Chapter V considers the dating, localization (the intended designation of the Books of Hours), and place of manufacture. The Ghent Privileges manuscript is defined by Clark as Philip the Good’s personal record of the statutes and privileges granted to Ghent and the county of Flanders between 1241 and 1453. His historical inquiry of its dating develops an ingenious hypothesis (p. 128): that the manuscript was begun by the burghers of Ghent for themselves, before their defeat by Philip, and was then taken over by the duke who had it finished by the Privileges Master. Although the duke owned no Books of Hours by the Privileges Master, that artist’s oeuvre is predominanty found in these devotional books which, Clark proves by an intricate analysis of Calendar saints and texts, were intended primarily for the contiguous dioceses of Cambrai and Tournai (which includes Ghent). As to where the artists themselves worked, Clark points to two ateliers (his words) “somewhere” in the dioceses of Tournai (p. 139). Chapter VI classifies the borders and decorative styles.
The catalogue, geographically ordered, includes easy to read charts of text and miniatures (I have a weakness for such charts). Appendices I-III are a treasure trove for manuscript specialists of the period, with regional readings, localizable texts in the manuscripts covered, and a table of regional feasts in Calendars, month by month.
This large book is well and clearly laid out and, were it not so heavy, very easy to use.
Myra Dickman Orth