In 2004, the Reed College Library acquired its first illuminated manuscript, a prayer book and antiphonary of the early 16th century, which served as a processional for a nunnery in Poissy, France. Acquired at a Christie’s auction through Reed Professor William Diebold, the bound manuscript supports his course on “Medieval Manuscript Illumination”. The work is housed in Special Collections (M2149 .C38 1510*).

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About the manuscript

This prayer book is an exquisite example of the miniaturist’s art and of illumination techniques from about 1510. It contains five full-page painted images, all but one in architectural frames, numerous borders of foliage and scrolls, and well over 100 decorated initials in the text. The contents include the rituals and songs in Latin along with the music, so square notes on red four-line staves grace much of the book. Burnished gold brightens many pages, and the arms of the original owner decorate the foot of the first border. The owner has not been identified.

The full-page miniatures are bright and mostly in excellent condition. The miniatures represent the following:

Image 10Image #10
The Presentation in the Temple (7 people)
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Image 186Image #184
The Last Supper
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Image 269Image #267
The Mass of St. Gregory
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Image 62Image #60
The Betrayal
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Image 246Image #244
Top left: The Martyrdom of St. Agnes
Top right: The Scourging of St. Catherine
Bottom: The Beheading of St. Catherine
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An earlier title for this work was Rituale ad usum sororum Ordinis S. Dominici. At least twenty-four such processionals are known from Poissy. Containing the chants and prayers which accompanied processions, they were a convenient format for each sister to use. The Convent was founded by Philip the Fair for “noble ladies in honour of the canonization of his grandfather, Louis IX, in 1298.” Given that five large miniatures were commissioned for this version, it is a particularly lavish volume, worthy of the prestigious convent to which the owner belonged.

The manuscript’s path to Reed’s collection is a long one. As a processional, it was used in the Dominican Convent of St. Louis at Poissy, opening with the blessing of candles for the purification of the Virgin and ending with the stripping of the altars on Maundy Thursday. The nuns were expelled from the royal foundation of St. Louis in 1792, and the next known location of this work is in the collection of Robert Hoe (1839-1909), the great American book and manuscript collector whose estate was sold at auction on May 1, 1911. At that time, it entered the estate of Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, Jr. (1863-1912), the great grandson of Thomas Jefferson, whose son of the same name (1893-1959), probably passed it on to the Episcopal Divinity School of Cambridge, Massachusetts. From there, it made its way to Christie’s to be auctioned.

For comparison, the Reed College Library also owns an illuminated printed book from the same period and country, a Book of Hours from Paris, dated 1510, the Hore dive Virginis Marie (BX2080 .C371 1510). Also in Latin, it is printed on vellum and has both decorated and historiated borders.


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