- The Bar Books: Manuscripts Illuminated for Renaud de Bar, Bishop of Metz (1303–1316) by Kay Davenport
Manuscript studies, Renaud de Bar, heraldry, private devotion, devotional practice
Kay Davenport's The Bar Books: Manuscripts Illuminated for Renaud de Bar, Bishop of Metz (1303–1316) is the second volume to appear in the new series Manuscripta Illuminata published under the auspices of Brepols. The study derives from the author's 1984 doctoral thesis, which up until now remained an essential reference for the exquisite group of illuminated liturgical books commissioned by Renaud de Bar, Bishop of Metz (d. 1316). The group includes a breviary divided between two volumes, the winter portion now London, BL MS Yates Thompson 8, the summer portion Verdun, BM MS 107; a summer missal now Verdun, BM MS 98; a ritual, formerly Metz, BM MS 43, destroyed in 1944; and a pontifical, also in two volumes, now Cambridge, Fitzwilliam MS 298, and Prague, NL MS XXIII.c.20. The Bar Books represents a significant refinement of Davenport's thesis, one that more than accomplishes the rather humbly stated objective to gather all information about the group in one place for convenience and "as a first step in consolidating related books." The revised study comprises a chronology of production vis-à-vis the life of Renaud, an analysis of textual contents and codicology, a look at each artist's contribution, and a comprehensive account of the spectacular heraldic decoration in the breviary. This is followed by a series of [End Page 169] appendices detailing the heraldry of the breviary (with prosopographical information), the contents of the manuscripts' calendars, and an index and study of every marginal vignette, accompanied by line drawings. Chapter III, "The Artists," makes up the better part of the book. Here, Davenport's opinions on style and the division of labor between the group's illuminators mostly align with those of Alison Stones, who recently discussed the Bar group manuscripts in her monumental corpus of French Gothic manuscripts of 2013 and a subsequent article of 2015. Davenport's most important and provocative claim where style is concerned is that the superb illuminator called by Stones the "master of the Metz faces" (Davenport's "artist 3") was also the carver of the splendid ivory crozier still clutched by the bishop when his tomb was opened in 1521. The crozier remains in the treasury of Metz Cathedral.
The Bar Books is a solid art-historical work, but there is much here that will appeal to historians of ecclesiastical politics, liturgy, and manuscript culture at the turn of the fourteenth century. As Davenport shows, the Bar manuscripts were a "working library" designed for an aristocrat during his meteoric ascent through the ecclesiastical ranks. The survival of an integral group of manuscripts, each of which furnishes indisputable ties to a single, identifiable patron, is unparalleled in the record of this time and place and therefore particularly worthy of the close analysis Davenport brings to bear. Drawing on idiosyncracies of text and image, she aligns production of the manuscripts' components with Renaud's career path, from his promotion from subdeacon to deacon (between February and September 1302), his preparation for the priesthood, and finally to his assumption of the episcopal throne of Metz (January 1303). To take but one example, the Missal (ca. 1298), which was likely created prior to Renaud's entering major orders, was later adapted for the parallel use of Verdun and Metz when its owner, as subdeacon, was granted canonries at both locations; subsequent adjustments to the manuscript's sanctoral (namely, the elimination of Verdun feasts in favor of Metz), however, probably signal Renaud's preparation for the priesthood. The great strength of Davenport's work lies in her linkage of such textual clues to the rich iconographic and heraldic content of the group. Her meticulous interpretations of painted ecclesiastical vestments [End Page 170] and "portraits" of...