Ung bon ouvrier, the preluding title of this monograph (elegantly recalling two earlier books by the same author, De fin or et d’azur, 2001, and Moult bons et notables, 2007), might be just as applicable to the illuminator, Marquet Caussin, as to his biographer, Dominique Vanwijnsberghe. Grown from an aside of his earlier books on manuscript illumination in Tournai, the author here presents the oeuvre of a Hainaut painter and illuminator, Marc Caussin, active in Valenciennes in the second and third quarters of the fifteenth century.
After a short introduction acknowledging the genesis of the project and the state of research on Hainaut illumination, Vanwijnsberghe sets out to reconstruct the life and work of Marc Caussin. In the first chapter, he elucidates the contents of an exceptionally detailed contract for the production of a two-volume missal for Cambrai Cathedral in 1456-57, which supplies the name of the ‘bon ouvrier’ Marquet Caussin. Although known in excerpt since 1860, this contract had never been linked to any existing codices. Armed with information on their physical appearance gleaned from the contract, Vanwijnsberghe succeeded in tracing the two volumes to the Bibliothèque municipale de Cambrai as Ms. 146 (winter part) and Ms. 147 (summer part). Amplifying crucial information in the contract and analyzing the actual codices, he reconstructs the making of the Cambrai Missal (the winter part underwent important changes during the production process), convincingly ascribing their illumination to Marc Caussin and proceeding with a stylistic analysis of these manuscripts.
In the second chapter, Vanwijnsberghe discusses almost fifty documents mentioning Marc Caussin. The illuminator first appeared in the sources in 1432, and although he must have died between 1479 en 1481, his name remained connected to a territory of land formerly in his posssesion until 1528 at least. In fact, Caussin probably gained a substantial part of his income from real estate transactions. Caussin, who is called a ‘peintre’ in most of the sources, might also have produced panel paintings in addition to his activities as an illuminator, libraire and (possibly) scribe, but no work in oil can be linked to him. Vanwijnsberghe situates Marc Caussin in a milieu of artisans who specialized in luxury goods, noting that the arrival of Simon Marmion – one of the most innovative painters and illuminators of his time – in Valenciennes around 1458 does not seem to have affected Caussin’s more traditional output.
In the next chapters, the author turns to the fourteen manuscripts he has grouped around the Cambrai Missal on the basis of stylistic evidence. In Chapter 3, three lavish prayer books are studied in great detail. Here as in the following chapters, Vanwijnsberghe invites the reader to join him on his investigations, even if not all of his attempts – for instance in identifying a patron – proved succesful. Whereas many authors relegate dead-ends to footnotes, Vanwijnsberghe incorporates his research paths into the main text. Although this strategy might have been inspired by the nature of a HDR (the author earned the grade of HDR [l’habilitation à diriger des recherches] from the Université de Lille III for the present study), Vanwijnsberghe clearly and convincingly states his conviction that this transparency will foster future research. In Chapter 4, three books of hours with general texts and illustrations are considered. As signaled by the author, a smaller center of manuscript production implied a higher number of manuscripts made on demand, which means that these manuscripts, although generic, are still not as standardized as the books produced in Bruges during the same period. This chapter also provides an analysis of the compositional models routinely employed by Marc Caussin. At the other side of the spectrum, the Heures de Maubeuge, discussed in the fifth chapter, shows the illuminator at the height of his powers, elaborating his standard compositions with additional figures and anecdotal details. This book of hours was probably made for one (or two) of the canonesses of Sainte-Aldegonde in Maubeuge. Remarkably, the original plan for this volume contained two miniatures depicting two female patrons, one in each miniature; perhaps they were relatives.
Chapter 6 discusses two miniatures and one border Marc Caussin contributed to the Grandes Heures de Philippe de Hardi, a fourteenth-century composite manuscript that Philip the Good had refurbished in 1451 under the direction of his court artist, Dreux Jehan. The production of another manuscript, a Histoires martiniennes for Philippe de Croÿ, was supervised by Jacquemart Pilavaine. In this context, the author mentions that painting miniatures and borders were separate specializations, although the rest of his book actually confirms the contrary, since Marc Caussin usually painted the borders around his own miniatures. For for these two important commissions Caussin collaborated with some of the most famous illuminators of his time.
Vanwijnsberghe discusses a relatively late work in Chapter 7, a Golden Legend containing 169 column miniatures. Although the production of this manuscript was supervised by Marc Caussin, probably in Valenciennes, he collaborated with three other illuminators. Chapter 8 contains a few late works, showing, on the one hand, a greater interest in spatial settings, with more complex interiors and landscapes instead of patterned backgrounds, but on the other, a less careful execution of figures.
The chapters on the individual manuscripts not only demonstrate in an exemplary manner the range of methods used in the field – especially for younger scholars and non-specialists – but they also incorporate a wealth of information about local contexts in the region of Hainaut, such as local cults and saints, local and regional families, institutions and networks. Vanwijnsberghe’s aim to contextualize these manuscripts and the people for whom they were made is further confirmed by the inclusion of two intermezzos. The first, inserted after Chapter 3, is written by Christiane Piérard, who gives a concise history of the order of Saint-Anthoine-en-Barbefosse. A member of this important Hainaut order commissioned one of the books discussed in Chapter 3. In another intermezzo, following Chapter 5 on the Heures de Maubeuge, Baudouin Van den Abeele explains the hunting and falcon scenes included among the marginal vignettes in Caussin’s manuscripts.
In Chapter 9, Vanwijnsberghe releases the thematic structure of the previous chapters, and proposes a chronology of the manuscripts in his corpus, using three manuscripts for which a certain or likely date could be determined as anchors. With the exception of the later works, there is such stylistic homogeneity among the manuscripts that only a limited development in style can be detected. The author situates the oeuvre of Marc Caussin in the larger context of manuscript illumination in the Low Countries. Vanwijnsberghe’s conclusion that studying Marc Caussin’s oeuvre contributes to the understanding of other, more talented illuminators, sounds a bit like an unnecessary apology for his hero, whose work is of quite decent quality. In addition to further art historical research into the manuscripts, Vanwijnsberghe signals a need for research into the historical context of the region, especially French Hainaut.
The book is completed by transcriptions of the archival documents on Marc Caussin and a catalogue of manuscripts with exhaustive descriptions. A useful appendix contains information on the calendars and liturgical use of Maubeuge and the key texts for three unidentified uses appearing within the Caussin corpus. The publication is abundantly illustrated in colour. The profound analyses and the many illustrations make Ung bon ouvrier into an important reference work on Hainaut illumination for years to come. Moreover, the book is a wonderful read because Dominique Vanwijnsberghe tells his story of Marquet Caussin with great animation and passion.
Anne Margreet As-Vijvers
Ysselstein, The Netherlands