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Contemporary Representations of Kingship at the Court and the Abbey of Saint-Denis:
Precedents for the Grandes Chroniques

Dionysian and courtly commissions, rather than other vernacular histories, provide precedents for the cycles of decoration in the earliest copies of the Grandes Chroniques de France . In view of the origins and patronage of the translation of the chronicle, this is not surprising. Because the French translation of the Latin chronicles of Saint-Denis began during Louis IX's reign, the earliest manuscript (Ste.-Gen. 782) must be considered with other commissions focusing on kingship that were produced for the saintly king and his successors. Further, because the text of the Grandes Chroniques was translated by Primat, a monk of Saint-Denis, and the illustrations of the presentation manuscript were probably planned with the advice of Primat or Abbot Matthew of Vendôme, the pictorial cycles in the earliest Grandes Chroniques de France are analogous to those commissions by the abbey or the court under the supervision of the abbey. The pattern of courtly and monastic commissions in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries demonstrates how depictions of kingship were shaped by patronage and colored by self-interest.

Kingship in the Royal Context

The fortunes of the Capetian house flourished during the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. When the first copy of the Grandes Chroniques was decorated shortly after the death of Louis IX in 1270, the Capetians were in firm control of France. By the reign of Philip the Fair (1285–1314), France was the dominant power in Europe, able to challenge and defeat even the pope. Although the last Capetians, Louis X (1314–16), Philip V (1316–22), and Charles IV (1322–28), were troubled by a dearth of male heirs, the institution of the monarchy remained powerful.[1]

Popular commissions responded to the concerns of the reigning king. Before Saint Louis, references to French kingship were couched most frequently in terms of the biblical antecedents of the French monarchs, the kings of Judah.[2] Depictions of kings from the Old Testament mingled with those of queens and prophets in jamb statues, such as those at Saint-Denis and Chartres; later, sculpted


Old Testament kings predominated in the galleries on the facades of cathedrals.[3] Galleries of kings may have been more explicitly dynastic; as early as the thirteenth century, literary references document the popular perception that the statues in the gallery of Notre-Dame represented kings of France.[4]

Ceremony and art dealing more specifically with the king also associated biblical with French kingship. One of the most important ceremonies to do this was the French coronation, versions of which were drafted around 1230 and again around 1250.[5] The sculpture of Reims cathedral, the site of the royal coronation, commemorates in more durable form the equation of Old Testament and French rulers expressed in the words of the coronation ceremony. Thus on at least one level, the interior facade of Reims is, as Sadler has shown, a collection of biblical exempla directed to the newly crowned king.[6]

Pictorial programs focusing on kingship evolved during the reigns of the last Capetians. Early commissions executed for Louis IX continued to portray kingship in terms of Old Testament models. For instance, artists depicted biblical scenes in a group of Parisian monuments in manuscript and stained glass executed for Louis. These emphasized human rather than divine action and concentrated primarily on Old Testament kings.[7] The changed subject matter and new narrative style in these cycles invested religious history with a "new prescriptive force" to become an example for royal behavior.[8] After Louis's canonization in 1297, hagiographic programs, frequently presented within a dynastic framework, became more common at court.[9] The presence of a royal saint allowed subsequent rulers such as Philip III or Philip the Fair to glorify the royal house by promoting the cult of their saintly forebear.[10]

During the reign of the last Capetian kings, royal commissions, whether biblical, hagiographic, or dynastic, manifested concern with legitimacy and dynastic continuity.[11] Increasingly, courtly commissions emphasized the continuous succession of the three races of French kings, a succession whose length and holiness, confirmed by the sainthood of Louis IX, were the subject of the Grandes Chroniques de France .

Kingship in the Dionysian Context

Throughout the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, the fortunes of the abbey of Saint-Denis were closely connected to those of the Capetian kings.[12] As early as the twelfth century, Abbot Suger succeeded in weaving together the destinies of France and the abbey. He acted as regent while Louis VII was on crusade; secured the privileges of guarding the coronation regalia and the oriflamme , the official standard of the French kings; and established the abbey as the burial place for France's rulers.

Subsequent abbots followed Suger's lead in promoting Dionysian involvement in France and the king's involvement in the abbey. Abbot Matthew of Vendôme (1258–86) acted as regent when Louis IX was on his second crusade and handled the day-to-day administration for Louis's successor, Philip III.[13] Perhaps at the request of Louis, this same abbot gave visual expression to the abbey's role as royal necropolis by commissioning an extensive tomb program.[14] The deliberate interweaving of abbey and realm continued during the tenure of Giles of Pontoise (1304–26). He had been sponsored for the abbacy by Philip IV, had


acted as a royal councillor, and was an executor of Philip's will. In his commissions Giles of Pontoise continued the long-standing tradition of presenting the French ruler with objects that glorified his kingship and demonstrated the special role of the abbey in royal history.[15] Throughout this period the abbey's royal programs seem to have had a consistent aim: to combine self-promotion with promotion of the royal house. Programs aimed at a larger audience as well as those geared to a single viewer, the king, demonstrate this consistency of purpose.

Two Dionysian commissions of the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries exemplify this merging of self-promotion and royal promotion in the abbey's patronage. The program of tombs completed by Matthew of Vendôme in 1267 glorified kingship but also aimed to secure the rights of Saint-Denis over private foundations like Royaumont as the burial place for French kings.[16] Similarly, the presentation copy of Ivo of Saint-Denis's Vita et Passio Sancti Dionysii (B.N. fr. 2090–92 and B.N. lat. 13836), commissioned during the reign of Philip IV by Giles of Pontoise and given to Philip V around 1319, combined a vita of Saint Denis with a chronicle stressing his miraculous interventions in French history. This text was intended to reawaken royal devotion to Saint Denis as much as to promote kingship.[17]

Although these commissions consistently promoted the abbey, their portrayal of kingship and their dynastic content developed over time. The arrangement of tombs changed after the death of Louis IX and again after his canonization, evolving away from the original schematic demonstration of the origins of the Merovingian, Carolingian, and Capetian kings of France and their relationships to one another. The addition of a gilded tomb for Louis IX sometime before May 1282 affirmed his importance, as did Philip IV's directive in 1306 that the bodies of four Carolingian rulers and Philip III and Isabella of Aragon be moved to make room for his own tomb next to that of Saint Louis. In the process the tombs' program shifted from celebrating the succession of dynasties to concentrating on Louis IX, France's holy king.[18] Similarly, when the presentation copy of Ivo of Saint-Denis's Vita et Passio was prepared for Philip V, its text was translated and miniatures were added to reflect the special importance dynastic themes held for Philip.[19] Similar royal and Dionysian preoccupations influenced the development of cycles of the Grandes Chroniques .

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Chapter One— Philip III's Grandes Chroniques
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