The Prayer Book of Claude de France

Photograph of The Prayer Book of Claude de France
Virtual lecture »
Curator Roger Wieck explores the images and iconography in the Prayer Book of Claude de France, discussing selected illustrations in depth.

The Prayer Book of Claude de France is a tiny, jewel-like manuscript that was made for Claude (1499–1524) around 1517, the year she was crowned queen of France. Her coat of arms appears on three different folios. The book is richly illustrated: the borders of each leaf are painted, front and back, with 132 scenes from the lives of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and numerous saints. The manuscript and a companion Book of Hours also made for the queen (in a Swiss private collection) were illuminated by an artist who was given the nickname Master of Claude de France after these two volumes. Active in the French city of Tours during the first quarter of the sixteenth century, the artist worked in a style that can be characterized as the pinnacle of elegance. The colors of his delicate palette are applied in tiny, seemingly invisible brushstrokes. Only about a dozen manuscripts painted by the artist survive.

In 1514, at age fourteen, Claude de France was married to François d'Angoulême (1494–1547), who became King François I in 1515. The marriage was political: Claude was duchess of Brittany, a duchy the king wanted to keep under his control. Short and hunched, Claude still managed to provide seven children (her second son became King Henry II) in ten years of marriage before dying of exhaustion at age twenty-four.

Also viewable on this Web site is the Prayer Book of Anne de Bretagne. Anne (1477–1514) was Claude's mother. She was queen of France twice, first as the wife of King Charles VIII and then as the wife of King Louis XII, who was Claude's father. Anne commissioned her book around 1495 for her son the dauphin, Charles-Orland (who died of smallpox shortly thereafter). Anne's manuscript was illuminated by Jean Poyer, a leading Tours illuminator in whose workshop the Claude Master is thought to have trained. These two codices thus juxtapose a mother's book with her daughter's and the work of one illuminator with that of his protégé.

The Prayer Book of Claude de France (MS M.1166) is the gift of Mrs. Alexandre P. Rosenberg in memory of her husband Alexandre Paul Rosenberg, 2008.

This exhibition is made possible through the generosity of Gifford Combs.
Christie's is the corporate sponsor.

Photography by Schecter Lee