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Good Morals for a Couple at the Burgundian Court: Contents and Context of Harley 1310, Le Livre des bonnes meurs of Jacques Legrand

Hanno Wijsman (notes)

Abstract

London, British Library, Harley MS. 1310 has received no scholarly attention for decades, perhaps even centuries. The aim of this article is to frame more precisely the early owners whose arms are painted in the lower margin of the frontispiece folio and to contextualize the manuscript and especially its illumination.

Harley 1310 contains Le livre des bonnes meurs, a treatise on how to live a morally correct life, written by the learned theologian Jacques Legrand, and especially addressed to the French princely and noble elite. It is a well-studied text. On its reception, however, much research remains to be done. An exceptionally high number of manuscripts and early editions is known. Moreover, the text was translated into English and into Dutch. The popularity of this text throughout the fifteenth and into the sixteenth century can be explained by the appeal it had for very different groups in society.

Harley 1310 was illuminated around 1450 or shortly after in the workshop of the Master of Etienne de Sauderat, most probably active in Paris, but he might have spent some time in Burgundian territory. The arms on the frontispiece folio point to Adolf of Cleves (1425-1492) and his second wife Anne of Burgundy (d. 1506), who married in 1470. However, the absence of the collar of the Golden Fleece indicates that it was acquired before 1456. Since the folio was evidently set up to contain the arms of a couple, we can assume that it was originally made for Adolf of Cleves and his first wife Beatrice of Portugal in the first three years of their marriage (1453-1456), and that later Beatrice’s arms were replaced by those of Adolf’s second wife.

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