The Golden Legend, or Legenda Aurea, is one of the classic works of the Middle Ages, containing lively tales of saints' miracles written in a simple style to address a wide audience. Hardly any text has been more popular and its texttradition, therefore, offers quite interesting variants all over Europe.
Much of the importance of this edifying codex lies in its interesting history of ownership and its numerous, lively illustrations. The book was handed down in the Anjou family until René d’Anjou, the second son of Louis II d’Anjou, received it by inheritance. As Duke of Anjou and Count of Provence (1434-1480), King of Naples, and titular King of Jerusalem and Aragon (including Sicily, Majorca and Corsica), he amassed a famous library in his castle at Angers, but never added an ex-libris or any provenance inscriptions to his books. It was his widow, Jeanne de Laval who added their joint coat of arms on the openings page, before she passed the book on to the daughters of her family. In her last will (1498), Jeanne states that her devotional manuscripts ‘and all our other books ... are to be given into the keeping of the chapter of Tugal in Laval [the priory which functioned as family mausoleum, on the border of Brittany] to be used by the daughters of our successors in the rule of Laval, on the day of their marriage or when they reside in the vicinity’
The manuscript comprises short legendary texts on the lives of saints and opens with an imposing miniature of the Last Judgement with Christ seated in heaven, flanked by the Virgin and St. John, mediators for the souls of the dead that arise from their graves. Almost ninety charming miniatures, well-chosen and self-explanatory, illustrate the individual texts. The illuminator worked in the Parisian Boqueteaux workshop. He has also been called the Master of the Jean de Sy Bible, after what is considered to have been one of his most important works (Paris, BnF, ms. fr. 15397). Some ten codices of the Legende Dorée may survive that were illuminated in this, most prolific shop in Paris active during the reign of Charles V (1364-1380). Our manuscript is the only one still in private hands. It can be compared in size and layout to that owned by Charles d’Anjou, René’s brother (London, BL, ms. Add. 16907).