L’Historie des comtes de Dammartin by Nicolas de Houssemaine has been restored to France
Recently the Bibliothèque d’Angers acquired a remarkable manuscript with the L’Historie des comtes de Dammartin – “The History of the Counts of Dammartin”.
The illuminated manuscript, which is currently exhibited at the “Médiathèque Toussaint” in the centre of Angers, was written between 1500-1503 by Nicolas de Houssemaine. He was leading professor at the faculty of medicine at the University in Angers and is better known for a treatise on the Pest. However, he also dappled in the romance of history as is witnessed by this book, which he presented to the Comte de Dammartin at the beginning of the of the 16th century.
The manuscript – which is the original first copy – was recently bought back to France after having been in private hands for the last three centuries in England and USA. Until now the text was only known from a copy of the original, which was held in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.
The first owner was Jean de Chabannes, comte de Dammartin. He is pictured in the frontispiece receiving the manuscript form the hands of Nicolas de Houssemaine. According to the prologue the history was written in order to tell the story of the ancestors of the present count de Dammartin and his kinship with the different royal families. However, in reality it is a rewritten version of a late chanson de geste – Theséus de Cologne – into which the story of the counts were interwoven. Set in the times of the Merovingian King Dagobert, the romance recounts the deeds of Theseus of Cologne, son of Floridas (King of Cologne in 632) and Alydone (maiden at the court of Dagobert) as well as his companions Ludovis of France, son of Dagobert, Ludovis’s faithful assistant Assaillant, Count of Dammartin, and Lambert, Count of Anjou.
The six extant miniatures (seven are missing) are the product of two artists. The Maître des Entrées parisiennes was likely responsible for most of the miniatures; he produced manuscripts for the royal court and was active between 1490 and 1520. The second artist, the Master of Etienne Poncher, was responsible for the border decoration and perhaps for the dedicatory miniature, although the face of Jean de Chabannes was added by the Master of the Paris Entries.
The binding of the book is very rare. The original bi-colour velvet heraldic binding in alternate bands of purple and gold and adhered to the wooden boards is extremely rare. The binding flaunts the heraldic colours of the arms of the Dammartin-Bourbon, which may also be found in the illuminated borders. Such bindings are known from the inventory of the royal library at Blois. However, only one other velvet binding of this type has come down to us (BnF MS fr. 5729). l both in content and appearance royal productions.