In 1516 Louise of Savoy, mother of the French king Francis I, undertook a pilgrimage to Provence to visit La Sainte-Baume, the grotto shrine of Saint Mary Magdalene, to whom she was particularly devoted. Accompanied by her son, daughter, and daughter-in-law, Louise made the pilgrimage to fulfill her vow to visit the shrine in exchange for the saint’s protection of Francis during the Battle of Marignano the previous year. After visiting the holy grotto and the nearby Church of Saint-Maximin, which houses the Magdalene’s relics, Louise and Francis made sizeable financial donations for the support and renovation of the shrine and abbey, as well as commissioning works of art for placement in the grotto as outward signs of their veneration of Mary Magdalene and gratitude for her protection.
Upon returning home Louise commissioned the Franciscan priest Francois Demoulins de Rochefort to create a manuscript depicting the life of Mary Magdalene as a personal book of devotion and a commemoration of the royal pilgrimage. Demoulins collaborated with the illuminator Godefroy le Batave to create the Vie de la Magdalene (Paris, B.N., ms. fr. 24.955). The diminutive manuscript is composed of four parts--the text, which includes both narrative and commentary; the illuminations, which include miniatures of the saint’s life as well as depictions of the shrine and relics; multi-lingual mottoes inscribed in the gold frames around the illuminations; and the colored frames with decorative motifs that surround the text.
While ostensibly a saintly vita, the Vie de la Magdalene is, in fact, a complex work that functions on a number of levels. Although much of the manuscript’s imagery and content aligns with major aspects of the medieval Magdalene legend, the Vie also has intriguing anomalies that do not have their source in traditional representations of Magdalenian hagiography. This dissertation examines the complexities of the Vie de la Magdalene to demonstrate how and why this vita differs from other accounts of the Magdalene’s story. It argues that Demoulins and Godefroy manipulated the narrative, illuminations, mottoes, and decorative motifs of the manuscript to reflect the personal and political concerns of Louise of Savoy and her children. For example, the author establishes thematic parallels between events in Louise’s life and the lives of both Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary, just as he makes correlations between Francis and Jesus Christ as Christian kings who are the sons of devoted and courageous mothers. Another example is the mottoes, which are written in French, Spanish, Italian, German, Latin, and two forms of Greek. The inclusion of these specific languages reflects not only an interest in humanism at the French court but also Francis’s bid to become Holy Roman Emperor.
Equally important are the aspects of the Vie that stress Louise and Francis’s royal lineage as well as their perpetuation of the traditions, established by their regal ancestors, of devotion to Mary Magdalene and patronage to the Provençal shrine. A corresponding theme emphasizes the Magdalene’s role as unctrice in the anointing of Jesus as the first Christian “king,” and the significance of her actions to the sacre, the ceremonial anointing of French kings during their coronation. Using this theme of sacral anointing, Demoulins establishes a direct connection between Francis I, the newly crowned “Most Christian King” of France, and Jesus Christ, the “King of Kings.”
This study also demonstrates the manner in which the Vie de la Magdalene reflects the influence of three fifteenth-century French Passion plays. Demoulins incorporates into the Vie specific scenes, characters, text, and themes found in the plays, thereby increasing the dramatic and spiritual impact of the story for the manuscript’s reader. In addition, Godefroy’s design of certain miniatures mimics the traditional staging of these plays, and in particular, recreates the experience of viewing the scenes from a royal box, again emphasizing the regal station of the Vie’s owner, Louise of Savoy. The last portion of the dissertation is an iconographic analysis of the decorative motifs on the narrative frames and a catalogue of the Vie, including translations of the text and mottoes, and detailed descriptions of the roundel images.
This dissertation adds to the scholarship on the Vie de la Magdalene by examining the components of the manuscript as individual and interactive devices designed to stimulate the reader visually, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Equally important, this dissertation reveals that the Vie de la Magdalene is replete with regal references intended to align Louise of Savoy and Francis I with their illustrious royal ancestors through their mutual devotion to Mary Magdalene and patronage to her shrine at La Sainte-Baume.