St. Bathilde of Chelles. ANON.
St. Bathilde of Chelles.
St. Bathilde of Chelles.
St. Bathilde of Chelles.
St. Bathilde of Chelles.
St. Bathilde of Chelles.
St. Bathilde of Chelles.
St. Bathilde of Chelles.
St. Bathilde of Chelles.
St. Bathilde of Chelles.
St. Bathilde of Chelles.
St. Bathilde of Chelles.
St. Bathilde of Chelles.
A Fifteenth-Century Devotional Image of Saint-Queen Bathilde, Printed on Vellum.

St. Bathilde of Chelles.

Exceptional print of the Merovingian saint-queen Bathilde's vision of her ascent to heaven. Bathilde, an Anglo-Saxon aristocrat sold into slavery in Gaul in the second half of the seventh century, later founded the Abbey of Chelles, near Paris, where her remains were enshrined following her death in 680. The print, which was likely sold as a devotional souvenir to pilgrims visiting the abbey in the latter part of the fifteenth century, presents something of an enigma. Bathilde was a bit mysterious herself. According to the Vita Sanctae Bathildis (late seventh century), Bathilde, who was from the English shores, was "called by Providence across the seas"—that is to say captured by Danish pirates—and eventually fetched up as a slave in the household of Frankish magnate Erchinoald. She performed her domestic duties there without complaint. Her pious humility, quiet ways, and physical beauty eventually began to appeal to Erchinoald. When his wife died, he came for Bathilde, who hid in a corner of her suitor's bedchamber until she seized at a chance to flee. Eventually she married Clovis II, King of Burgundy, and acceded to Queen. Comfortable in her new role, she used royal coffers to care for the poor, to support monasteries—many for women—and to buy freedom for the enslaved. She established the Abbey of Chelles, and was an abbess there until her death. But Bathilde's charitable reputation was muddied two centuries later. In Stephen of Ripon's ninth-century Vita Sancti Wilfrithi, Bathilde is described as "murderous," having ordered assassinations, including that of a bishop. Stephen may have been motivated by politics to smear Bathilde, but this blemish on her reputation has not been forgotten. Our print reveals none of this Merovingian intrigue; it is a sacred image, narrative in nature, and meant to act as an appropriate locus to which devotion and adoration may be attached by whomever possesses it. The xylographic text beneath the image serves both as a prayer and context:


❡O regina nobilis monialis humilis nobis ſis p[ro]pitia | H[a]ec e[t] p[rae]clara ſcala [et] a[n]gelica viſio q[ue] beatiſſi[m]e batildi regi[n]e | a[n]te obitu suu[m] oſte[n]ſa ſuit p[ro] qua[m] ad celeſte[] ſpo[n]ſu[m] peruenit✠ 


The image follows quite closely the legend of Bathilde's death as reported in the Vita Sanctae Bathildis: When she was deathly ill with an infection, and in great pain, Bathilde was visited by a vision: 


"Before the altar of holy Mary, a ladder stood upright whose height reached to the heavens. Angels of God were going up and down the ladder, and the Lady Balthild was making her ascent. Through this revelation she understood that her merit, patience, and humility would take her to the heights of the eternal king, who would swiftly reward her with an exalted crown. The lady knew, from this clear vision, that it would not be long before she would die and come to the place where she had already laid up her true treasure. She ordered that this vision be concealed from the other sisters so that they would not grieve unnecessarily before her passing. She now devoted herself with greater piety and good spirits to holy prayer, commending herself even more zealously, more humbly, and with greater contrition to the celestial king, the Lord Jesus Christ."


The artist who designed our print certainly had access to this text. But what was the source of the imagery? It is possible that the artist was familiar with the miniature present on f113v of a late-fourteenth century French chronicle, Royal MS 16 G VI, now held at the British Library, which illustrates St. Bathilde in a disposition not dissimilar to that in our print. Hagiographies of Bathilde, including the surviving text of the Vita, were probably composed shortly after her death, or even as she was dying, by Sisters of the Abbey of Chelles. Her cult was founded around 833, and she was canonized, by Nicolas I, about 880. By the mid- to late-fifteenth century, her cult was in full force. It was in this milieu that our unusual print was produced. The essential mystery it presents is its method of production. A modern cataloguer has penciled in the blank tail margin of our print his or her opinion that the work is a product of the mid fifteenth century, likely from the abbey at Chelles. The cataloguer also loosely translates the xylographic Latin text into French. Even though our print appears to be a woodcut, a witness to a copy held at the Bibliothèque Nationale, E. Duseigneur, writing in 1842, remarks: 


"[L'estampe] est un curieux et peut-ètre unique spécimen de l'art des anciens graveurs. C'est un cuivre de deux lignes d'épaisseur, taillé comme un bois, c'est-à-dire que les traits qui composent le dessin sont laissés en relief, tandis que les lumières et les blancs sont profondément enlevés dans la masse du métal. Le cuivre est fixé à l'aide de quatre fiches rivées des deux côtés, sur un bois dont la partie inférieure porte une inscription de trois lignes. Cette inscription rappelle, par son travail, les blocs des livres xylographiques; nous nous hâtons de dire, toutefois, que, par ce rapprochement, nous n'entendons nullement prétendre que notre planche soit antérieure à l'usage des caractères mobiles; son style la rapporte, selon nous du moins, aux dernières années du quinzième siècle, ou peut-ètre même aux premières années du seizième. Il est évident que les traits et les hachures ont quelque chose de plus souple et de plus délié que ce que nous montrent les gravures sur bois de cette époque ; mais il faut tenir compte de la différence de matière. Le métal permettait de tracer avec infiniment de liberté certaines lignes courbes que les artistes d'alors ne pouvaient pas produire sur le bois dont le fil était un obstacle perpétuel pour des mains inexpérimentées. La meilleure preuve que la roideur et les angles pour les draperies n'étaient pas la conséquence d'un parti pris, mais, pour ainsi dire, une obligation matérielle imposée par l'imperfection des outils, c'est que, lorsque les gravures sur bois ont été enluminées, le peintre a corrigé ce qu'il regardait comme un défaut du graveur. Je parle ici des vignettes peintes avec soin, et non pas seulement de ces images primitives rehaussées de teintes plates et qui laissent voir le trait noir sous la couleur. L'inscription sur bois placée au bas de la gravure en explique parfaitement le sujet. La première ligne, séparée des autres par un trait, et qui est une invocation, O regina nobilis, monialis humilis nobis sis propitia, nous fait supposer que cette gravure n'a pas fait partie d'un livre, mais qu'elle était destinée à être donnée ou vendue comme image à ceux que des sentiments de piété amenaient au tombeau de la sainte, à Chelles. C'est en effet dans l'abbaye de Chelles que Bathilde, ou, comme on l'appelait au moyen âge, la reine Baudour, femme de Clovis II, mourut en 685, après y avoir vécu quelque temps comme simple religieuse. Un auteur anonyme, mais très-certainement contemporain de la reine Bathilde, nous a laissé sa légende écrite en latin barbare. Il raconte, dans son quatrième chapitre, comment la reine eut, quelques jours avant sa mort, une vision qui lui fit comprendre que ses derniers moments approchaient. Le Christ lui-même, au milieu des anges du ciel, l'appelait à lui, en lui montrant une échelle qui, comme celle de Jacob, s'élevait de la terre jusqu'au céleste séjour. Al vèro propinquante glorioso ejus obitu, visio prœclara ei fuit ostensa; scala enim erecta, stans ante altarium sanctae Mariae, cujus culmen cœlum contingeret, et quasi angelos Dei comitantes, ut ipsa domna Batildis ascenderet per eam. On voit , en comparant ce fragment que nous citons avec les deux lignes: Haec est prœclara scala et angelica visio quo beatissime Baltidi reginae ante obitum suum ostensa fuit per quam ad caelestem sponsum pervenit, qui servent d'explication à notre image, que l'artiste avait certainement consulté le choniqueur dont il a résumé le récit en quelques mots."


Is Duseigneur correct in his assertion that our print was produced from a copper matrix, with the end result designed to look like a woodcut, and that the telltale clues are the graceful curves, and four pegs anchoring the engraved copper to a wood base? If so, our print of Saint-Queen Bathilde would be a most remarkable and unique witness to an unexplored hybrid method of print production during the early days of handpress printing. Withal a most comely and engaging example of the art, in signally fine condition, and which demands examination by bibliographers focused on the essential nexus of devotional imagery and early printmaking techniques in Europe.

France: 1450-1500.

167 x 114 mm (image), 243 x 152 mm et infra (sheet). Woodcut, or relief engraving in copper, or a hybrid of both, printed on uterine vellum. Image within double mitered borders. Xylographic text, also within double mitered border; perhaps a separate block. Pinholes evident at corners. Fine copy.

Provenance:

20th-century cataloguer's notes in pencil to tail margin, assigning print to mid-fifteenth century. 

Schreiber, Wilhelm Ludwig, Manuel de l'amateur de la gravure sur bois et sur métal au XVe siècle: Contenant un catalogue des gravures sur métal et des empreintes en pâte suivi d'un supplément provisoire, d'une clef des attributs des Saints et d'une liste des marques et des monogrammes : avec des notes critiques, bibliographiques et iconologiques, Vol III, Berlin: Cohn, 1893, pp. 367-9; Duseigneur, E., Le cabinet de l'amateur et de l'antiquaire: revue des tableaux et des estampes anciennes; des objets d'art d'antiquité et de curiosité, Vol. 1, Paris: Au bureau du Journal, 1842, pp. 367-9 (reproduction planche 59); Longpérier, Adrien de, Oeuvres, Vol. IV, Paris: Leroux, 1883, pp. 132-5 (reproduction p. 133); Des Essarts, Sainte Bathilde in Correspondant, Vol. XXXII, Paris: 1873, pp. 227-46; Fournet, P.A., "St. Bathilde," The Catholic Encyclopedia, New York: Appleton, 1907; L'Abbe Migne, Encyclodedie Theologique, Vol. V, Paris: Chez editeur, 1850,  cols. 94-5; Binet, Etienne, Vie excellente de Sainte Bathilde, Paris: Chappelet, 1624; English tr. of Vita accessible at http://ourorthodoxlife.blogspot.com/2010/12/vita-sanctae-bathildis.html

Item #212

Price: $14,500.00