A collection of detached leaves: An education tool or a ‘Biblioclasts crime”

From the 15th century on, the practice of cutting up or dismembering both illuminated manuscripts and those containing early texts became common in response to the demand from book collectors and others in the market for early books. This unhappy practice, which still continues, nevertheless represented a taste for art and a desire to “bring out” the miniatures in the books, thus transforming them into small easel paintings that competed with large-format works and gained recognition and respect for master illuminators as artists in their own right.

The illuminated leaf that had been detached and inserted into the Hours for the use of Toul, printed in 1547, represents practices that began in the 17th century and reflects the aesthetic pleasure of the owner and collector in 1776. The two Italian leaves, featuring the scenes of a Woman reading in her studiolo and the Deposition of Christ, were arranged as a mosaic, and testify to the “biblioclastic”practices that go back to the commercial activities of the famous Venetian Abbé Luigi Celotti, who organized the first auction of illuminated leaves in 1825, and to the ambition of early 19th-century collectors to make themselves albums of cut-out miniatures.

Fortunately, there were people with more noble ambitions. For his plan to create a small museum of the book in the McGill University Library in the 1920s and 1930s, Gerhard R. Lomer had the help of F. Cleveland Morgan, preeminent patron of the Art Association (later the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts), who shared his desire to educate the general public. This is why two leaves cut from the same Book of Hours for the use of Bayeux and two others from a single breviary dating from about 1300 were acquired by these two institutions.

Credits: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts / Musée de beaux-arts de Montréal for permissions to use texts prepared by Brenda Dunn-Lardeau et Richard Virr for the 2018 exhibition: Resplendent Illuminations: Books of Hours from the 13th to the 16th Century in Quebec Collections / Resplendissantes enluminures : Livres d’Heures du XIIIe au XVIe siècle dans les collections du Québec.