- The Felton Illuminated Manuscripts in the National Gallery of Victoria
From the Zodiac sign on the front cover (in Theophanes' Gospel book) to Leo (the Lion) on the back cover (in the Aspremont Hours), this survey of the five illuminated manuscripts, obtained through the very generous endowment by Alfred Felton, combines excellent artistic reproductions with a very scholarly analysis of each work by Margaret M. Manion. The manuscripts range in time from the early 12th century to 1496, and in location from Constantinople in the East to Paris, Florence and Naples in the West, four great centres of art and learning. As the Forward points out, supported by Manion, apart from her own edition of the Wharncliffe Hours, published by Thames and Hudson in 1981, not one of these masterpieces has been studied in full, despite past displays and catalogues that have revealed their treasures.
In her useful introduction (pp 13-21), Manion gives a brief account of Felton's bequest, and of Frank Rinder's admirable skill in finding manuscripts and paintings for Victoria's Library, Gallery and Museum. But she fails to point out this unique combination, which helped in the acquisition of such a large number of illuminated manuscripts, rather than just paintings and sculptures. This was mainly due to the [End Page 155] fine classical scholar, Alexander Leeper, Warden of Trinity College and President of the Library Committee. He defended Rinder against 'stag at bay' critics, who built up a splendid collection of manuscripts (including the Wharncliffe Hours), and of impressionistic paintings, until he was worn out by the barbarians, and joined Leeper in retirement. The gallery thus lost its chance to double the number of its French impressionists.
Manion then gives brief descriptions of the Wharncliffe Hours (c. 1475-80), of the Aspremont-Kievraing Hours (c. 1300), and of the illuminated French version of Livy's History of Rome (c. 1400), acquired in 1937. The Gospel Book of Theophanes (c. 1125-50) follows, with the Strozzi-Acciaiuoli Hours (1496), bought in 1960 and 1961, and with the Cockerell leaf from a Universal Chronicle (1440-70), depicting nine famous men. This was bought in 1966, but unfortunately since then no other illuminated manuscript has been acquired. Manion gives the reasons for this, and describes the once lively study of manuscript art in the Fine Arts department at Melbourne University, and the 'Gold and Vellum' exhibition of manuscripts in 1989.
Manion might have briefly mentioned the other illuminated manuscripts left in the State Library, purchased likewise through the Felton bequest. These range over 500 years, and include a 1478 manuscript with a humanist script containing unique portraits of the later Roman Emperors, once owned by the Borgia family, and a 1050 Boethius De Musica with coloured tables. A decorated 1340 antiphonal is of interest with its music, and a 1500 Pontificale has margins with humorous secular imagery, and cameos showing the Bishop and his flock. There are also four illuminated French Books of Hours, and an Office of the Dead. Their variety is noteworthy, as is that of the five special manuscripts that used to be displayed in the Victorian Art Gallery. If the Book of Kells can be displayed in Trinity College, Dublin, why should these five not find a new home in the gallery, with special lighting to prevent any damage to them when displayed?
On pages 25-97, Manion discusses the Canon Tables in the Gospel Book of Theophanes, with a very interesting and well-informed commentary and with excellent illustrations, and on pages 98-203, the Aspremont-Kievraing Hours receives similar treatment, as does the Melbourne Livy on pp 204-289, and the Wharncliffe Hours on pp 290-375, and the Strozzi Hours on pp 376-425. Finally the Cockerell folio is well analysed, on pp 426-30. A picture of Pierre Bersuire, who translated Livy's Latin history, can be seen on pp 271-72 and filling page 285, and is a...