The miniatures and historiated initials of this remarkable Missal, that originally comprised more than one volume, can be attributed to the workshop of Jean de Toulouse, who is frequently mentioned in documents of the papal court in Avignon, from circa 1380 until around 1415. Jean’s special gift was to synchronize the talents and techniques of several collaborators into forming a harmonious work of art. We know that in 1393 he was leading a large workshop that comprised sixteen collaborators, assembled to produce a considerable number of volumes of a Missal for pope Clement VII (Robert of Geneva, Bibl. Vat., Ottob. Lat. 62 and Vat. Lat. 4766-4767).
Our manuscript demonstrates Jean de Toulouse's style in at least four or five of the historiated initials, but his authorship of the full-page miniature of Christ in Majesty remains under discussion. The elegant figures show decorative contours and shapes of French illumination while the soft moulding of the faces and the flowing draperies give an excellent example of the International Gothic ‘soft style’. Seven more historiated initials - among which one devoted to Séverin, Exupère and Félicien - are painted by one or two other artists who preferred to paint slender figures with small heads, and with somewhat more pronounced draperies recalling Italian examples.
The collegiate church of St. Barnard of Romans was an important religious centre, that, together with the adjoining monastery, constituted the founding centre of this city in the Dauphiné de Viennois. By the end of the 14th century Romans had become one of the most prosperous cities of the Dauphiné, from where wealthy merchants exported their draperies towards the Near East. Their prosperity allowed them to employ the most respected artists of the moment. St. Barnard’s itself contains a special chapel dedicated to the Holy Sacrament, where one still finds the frescoes devoted to SS. Séverin, Exupère and Félicien (and which also represent the famous bridge of Avignon). The saints’ valuable reliquaries, three silver gilded heads, were preserved and listed in the 1562 inventory.
A possible – but hypothetical – candidate as commissioner for such a deluxe Missal like the present book could be one of the canons of Romans, possibly Henri de Sévery (?-1396), who was a personal friend of pope Clement VII (1342-1394) and who knew his way in Avignon. We do know he was associated with a Missal that was still seen and recorded in 1892, but has been untraced since.
Henri began his ecclesiastical career in Romainmôtier (Vaud, Switzerland), after which he held many functions. In Romans-sur-Isère, he became a canon and later prior of St. Barnard's. He was twice elected bishop, first of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne (1381-1383) and, next, of Rodez (1385-1396).
As they were used on a daily basis, the survival rate of medieval missals is quite low and those that are preserved are often incomplete or show signs of intense use. This is a precious codex with sumptuous decoration and writing signed by P. le Poys, an, as of yet, unknown copyist. It has kept its striking archaic impression in its medieval binding. The great workmanship of its quality illumination makes this manuscript a valuable work of art. Together with its unique provenance, this is an extremely rare volume.