In the first two decades of the fifteenth century Paris experienced a period of unprecedented flourishing of the art of miniature painting. An important impetus to this development were the numerous noble patrons as, for instance, the King of France and the Duke of Berry. Dozens of eminent miniaturists worked on commissions ranging from the illumination of Books of Hours to the illustration of the works by authors from antiquity and more recent times. A particularly magnificent manuscript of that period is the copy of the French translation of De Civitate Dei by the Church Father St. Augustine, reproduced here on the opposite page. As is usual in such works, the text begins with an elaborately decorated opening page, followed by ten smaller miniatures at the beginning of the individual books. The miniature reproduced here depicts God the Father, enthroned amidst the four doctors of the Church: top left St. Augustine, top right St. Gregory the Great, recognizable by his papal tiara, bottom left St. Ambrose, and bottom right St. Jerome, dressed as a cardinal with his attribute, the lion, at his feet. The most important authors of Christianity have been depicted writing, with their writing sheets kept flat by red ribbons weighted with lead pellets. The written sheets which St. Gregory has hung to dry on a line - the sole instance of such custom being depicted - are famous among manuscript experts. Framing the page is a magnificent, densely decorated border of green and pink leaves which, linked at the bottom by a true-to-nature rendering of hills with trees, gives the overall impression of a forest full of birds and playful hunting scenes.
About 1485 the book became the property of Philip of Cleves, councillor and warrior of Maximilian, Duke of Burgundy, the French King Louis XII and the Emperor Charles V successively. In the lower margin he had his coat of arms painted, with his emblem of two corn dressers, and a banner with his motto ‘A JAMAIS’ between the two columns of text above. After his death in 1528 part of his manuscript collection was bought by Henry III of Nassau, thus devolving within the collection of the stadholders until this became part of the collection of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek.
Cité de Dieu (first volume). St. Augustine. Paris, early fifteenth century. Vellum, 339 leaves, 423 x 330 mm. 72 A 22, fol. 6r