St. Helena Identifying the True Cross
Prayer Book of Anne de Bretagne
Illuminated by Jean Poyer
126 x 80 mm
The Pierpont Morgan Library, Purchased in 1905
MS M.50 (fol. 26v)
This prayer book was commissioned by Anne de Bretagne, wife of two successive kings of France, Charles VIII and Louis XII, to teach her son, the dauphin Charles-Orland (1492–1495), his catechism. It was painted in Tours by Jean Poyer, an artist documented as working for the queen. The book is richly illustrated, and its thirty-four airy, light-flooded miniatures are among the most delicate examples of late-fifteenth-century art.
St. Helena Identifying the True Cross (fol. 26v, left)
The great claim to fame for St. Helena, mother of Constantine (the first Christian emperor), was her discovery of the True Cross. Legend has it that she also found the crosses of the two thieves crucified along with Christ; she tested them all on a corpse and knew that the life- restoring cross must have been the Savior's.
After its discovery, the True Cross became one of Christianity's most sacred relics. The Library's Stavelot Triptych (on view in the Heinemann Gallery) is said to enshrine a piece of the True Cross.