Illuminated manuscript

$140 $

'Nativity'
Illumination from
Les Grandes Heures d'Anne de Bretagne,
by Jean Bourdichon.
Frame: 12 in x 16 in.

More details

An exceptional manuscript (1503-1510)

Les Grandes Heures d’Anne de Bretagne is one of the masterpieces of 15th century illumination. It was made for Anne of Brittany, Queen of France (born in Nantes in 1477), and remained in her possession until her death at the Château de Blois in 1514. The daughter of François II, she became Queen of France through her marriages to Charles VIII (on 8 February 1492 she was the first queen crowned at the basilica of Saint-Denis), then Louis XII. Queen of the Romans, Duchess of Milan, Queen of Naples and Jerusalem, Countess of Etampes, she was a crucial figure in the union of the independent Duchy of Brittany with the kingdom of France.

At court, the Queen surrounded herself with artists, poets, authors and musicians, acting as a committed patron. She owned an extensive library whose shelves contained several magnificent books of hours, including this example, one of the best known in the world famous for its floral borders depicting plants, insects and small animals.

Illuminated manuscript of the Crhistmas Night - Nativity

The manuscript was illuminated by Jean Bourdichon (born in Tours in 1456 or 1457), manuscript illuminator at the French court and court painter to Louis XI, Charles VIII, Louis XII and Francis I. The Grandes Heures of Anne of Brittany is the artist’s best-known masterpiece. He trained at the atelier of famed Renaissance painter Jean Fouquet, most likely with his son, the ‘Master of Boccace of Munich’ (pseudonym of the artist).

For producing this manuscript, which is composed of 238 folios made of strong parchment (300 x 190 mm), Jean Bourdichon would have received the sum of 1050 livres tournois in six hundred gold crowns (the “Tours pound” was one of numerous currencies used in France in the Middle Ages). The Grandes Heures of Anne of Brittany passed through the possession of Claude of France (Anne’s daughter), Francis I, Louis XIV (in the cabinet of curiosities of the Palace of Versailles), Louis XV and then Louis XVI. It was transferred to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France during the Revolution in 1795*.

Christmas night - Nativity

Amongst the 49 miniatures that make up The Grandes Heures of Anne of Brittany, the Nativity scene is remarkable both for its artistry and symbolism. Framed by an imitation gilded picture frame set against a black background, all the traditional elements of Christmas night are present: the infant Jesus of Nazareth lying in a manger, barely sheltered in a stable, watched over by Mary and Joseph and comforted by the attendance of a donkey and an ox.

Religious manuscript from the 16th century

The stable appears cramped, with holes in the roof that allow the night sky shine through the broken slats. Four shepherds in the background stand witness, attentive and reverential spectators to the scene. There is an air of deprivation about the whole scene, created by the dark landscape glimpsed behind the shepherds and the cheerless surroundings of the barn.

The scene is illuminated by four sources of light. The first comes from the infant himself from where he is lying on the straw; the second from the halo of his virgin mother, whose blue robes contrast with the dark walls of her surroundings; the third is that of the Star of Bethlehem which filters powerfully through the damaged roof barely covering Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Joseph also wears a halo, though it is more modest than that of Mary. The four light sources are the illuminated elements of the painting. By contrast, the lantern held by Joseph is not lit, perhaps indicating an opposition between earthly light and divine light - the two perhaps coming together thanks to the birth of Jesus Christ.

The latin inscription on the frame reads:

•PVER•NATVS•EST•NOBIS•ET•FILI•DAT•EST•NOBIS

“Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given”.

Ms Latin 9474, Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Medieval manuscript illumination of Jesus

Sources :

- https://gallica.bnf.fr/

- https://archivesetmanuscrits.bnf.fr/

- Codices Illustres. Les plus beaux manuscrits enluminés du monde 400 à 1600, de Ingo F. Walther et Norbert Wolf, éditions Taschen (Paris, 2014).

- Les Grandes Heures d'Anne de Bretagne (Merveilles de L'Enluminure), avec Régine Pernoud, Editions de Crémille (1989).

Wood frame, made in France.

The document is displayed in a 12 in x 16 in frame.

Each frame is hand-assembled in our workshops in Cambremer.


The New York Yimes logo

Mrs Dalloway: Thanks to a new reproduction of the only full draft of Mrs. Dalloway, handwritten in three notebooks and initially titled “The Hours,” we now know that the story she completed — about a day in the life of a London housewife planning a dinner party — was a far cry from the one she’d set out to write (...)

The Guardian Logo

The Grapes of Wrath: The handwritten manuscript of John Steinbeck’s masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath, complete with the swearwords excised from the published novel and revealing the urgency with which the author wrote, is to be published for the first time. There are scarcely any crossings-out or rewrites in the manuscript, although the original shows how publisher Viking Press edited out Steinbeck’s dozen uses of the word “fuck”, in an attempt to make the novel less controversial. (...)


Jane Eyre: This is a book for passionate people who are willing to discover Jane Eyre and Charlotte Brontë's work in a new way. Brontë's prose is clear, with only occasional modifications. She sometimes strikes out words, proposes others, circles a sentence she doesn't like and replaces it with another carefully crafted option. (...)

The observer logo

The Jungle Book: Some 173 sheets bearing Kipling’s elegant handwriting, and about a dozen drawings in black ink, offer insights into his creative process. The drawings were not published because they are unfinished, essentially works in progress. (...)


The Lost World: SP Books has published a new edition of The Lost World, Conan Doyle’s 1912 landmark adventure story. It reproduces Conan Doyle’s original manuscript for the first time, and includes a foreword by Jon Lellenberg: "It was very exciting to see, page by page, the creation of Conan Doyle’s story. To see the mind of the man as he wrote it". Among Conan Doyle’s archive, Lellenberg made an extraordinary discovery – a stash of photographs of the writer and his friends dressed as characters from the novel, with Conan Doyle taking the part of its combustible hero, Professor Challenger. (...)

The Chicago Tribune Logo

Frankenstein: There is understandably a burst of activity surrounding the book’s 200th anniversary. The original, 1818 edition has been reissued, as paperback by Penguin Classics. There’s a beautifully illustrated hardcover, “The New Annotated Frankenstein” (Liveright) and a spectacular limited edition luxury facsimile by SP Books of the original manuscript in Shelley's own handwriting based on her notebooks. (...)

the washington post logo

The Great Gatsby: But what if you require a big sumptuous volume to place under the tree? You won’t find anything more breathtaking than SP Books ’s facsimile of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s handwritten manuscript of The Great Gatsby, showing the deletions, emendations and reworked passages that eventually produced an American masterpiece (...)

Fine Books Magazine logo

Oliver Twist: In the first ever facsimile edition of the manuscript SP Books celebrates this iconic tale, revealing largely unseen edits that shed new light on the narrative of the story and on Dickens’s personality. Heavy lines blocking out text are intermixed with painterly arabesque annotations, while some characters' names are changed, including Oliver’s aunt Rose who was originally called Emily. The manuscript also provides insight into how Dickens censored his text, evident in the repeated attempts to curb his tendency towards over-emphasis and the use of violent language, particularly in moderating Bill Sikes’s brutality to Nancy. (...)

lit hub logo

Peter Pan: It is the manuscript of the latter, one of the jewels of the Berg Collection in the New York Public Library, which is reproduced here for the first time. Peter’s adventures in Neverland, described in Barrie’s small neat handwriting, are brought to life by the evocative color plates with which the artist Gwynedd Hudson decorated one of the last editions to be published in Barrie’s lifetime. (...)