Beauvais Missal


Toronto, ON, The Robertson Davies Library at Massey College, Fifty Original Leaves from Medieval Manuscripts (Set 17), no. 15

General Information

Title Beauvais Missal
Shelfmarks Fifty Original Leaves from Medieval Manuscripts (Set 17), no. 15
Material Parchment
Place of Origin Beauvais, France
Date of Origin ca. 1290

Original Condition

Page Height at least 290 mm
Page Width at least 204 mm
Height of Written Area 195 mm
Width of Written Area 135 mm
Number of Columns 1
Number of Lines 21
More about the Condition

When last intact, bound in Russian leather with brass catches and clasps, metal studs along the board edges, the edges of the leaves gilt-tooled, with “Missel de Bauvais” au pointillé on the lower edge of the bookblock.  

Current Condition

Dimensions 290 x 204 mm

Book Decoration and Musical Notation

Persons: Stylistically, art historian Alison Stones has affiliated the Beauvais Missal with a cluster of manuscripts known as the “Cholet Group,” attributed to Amiens or Paris in the last decades of the thirteenth century. In particular, the initials, marginalia, and figures in the Beauvais Missal compare favorably to those in this glossed Psalter from the Cholet Group, Bibliotheque de l’Arsenal manuscript 25. Note especially the treatment of the curling hair, deeply modeled drapery, and the delicately drawn eyes. (see Stones, Alison. “Les manuscrits du cardinal Jean Cholet et l’enluminure beauvaissienne vers la fin du XIIIème siècles.” L’Art gothique dans l’Oise et ses environs, XIIème - XIVème siècle: architecture civile et religieuse, peinture murale, sculpture et arts précieux, etc.: colloque international organisé à Beauvais les 10 et 11 octobre 1998 par le G.E.M.O.B., Groupe d’étude des monuments et œuvres d’art de l’Oise et du Beauvaisis, edited by Alain Erlande-Brandenburg, 239-68. [Beauvais]: GEMOB, 2001).

1- to 7-line initials throughout in gold and colors, with tendril-like marginal extensions ending in leafy finials, many incorporating serpents, dragons, or birds, with small dogs or other animals. Originally with four historiated initials in the Canon, three of which have been identified (one on Oberlin University, Allen Art Gallery 1993.16 and two on Cleveland Museum of Art 1982.141).  



The style of the script and illumination suggest that the manuscript was produced towards the end of the thirteenth century. Liturgical and archival evidence places the manuscript at the Cathedral of Beauvais, where it was used for several centuries.


According to an inscription on the lost first leaf, recorded by Sotheby's in 1926, the manuscript was given to the Beauvais Cathedral by the Canon Robert of Hangest, in exchange for a promise that the priest would say a memorial mass for him every year on November 3. Archival documents record that the manuscript was given in 1356, the year Hangest died. The book remained in the library for four hundred and fifty years, clearly identified in several library inventories. The Cathedral library was dispersed, as were most ecclesiastical collections, during the French Revolution at the end of the eighteenth century. The missal disappeared at that time, but surfaced again several decades later as part of the collection of Didier Petit de Meurville. In 1843, the Beauvais Missal –newly bound and gilt by Lyon binder Bruyère – was  purchased by Henri Auguste Brölemann, a commercial broker in Lyon, from whom it passed through several generations to his great-granddaughter and heiress, Madame Etienne Mallet. She sold the manuscript at Sotheby's on May 4th, 1926 (lot 161) for £970 to dealer William Permain. Peter Kidd recently discovered that Permain was acting as an agent for none other than William Randolph Hearst, who brought the manuscript to the U.S. Hearst owned the codex for sixteen years before selling it for $1,000 in October 1942 through Gimbel Brothers, to New York dealer Philip Duschnes. Less than a month after the Hearst sale, he began offering single pages of the manuscript for $25 - $40 apiece, depending on the amount of gold decoration found on the particular leaf. Duschnes counted among his friends and business associates fellow biblioclast Otto Ege. After removing the leaves he intended to offer for sale, Duschnes passed the remnants on to Ege, who distributed leaves through his usual means, by gift or sale. Ege’s widow Louise distributed several dozen as No. 15 in the Fifty Original Leaves portfolio, around forty of which were assembled and marketed after Ege’s death in 1951.