The library assembled by Charles V of France and lodged in the Falconry Tower at the Louvre was more than a fabulous collection of books; it illustrated the promotion of French as the language of learning and government and was also a sign of royal authority - a prerogative of the King of France.
The library of Charles V became a model for royal and aristocratic libraries in the 15th century, as illustrated by manuscripts from the libraries of Louis d’Orléans and Jean, duc de Berry. Both were renowned bibliophiles who played significant roles in the management of royal affairs in the late 14th and early 15th centuries.
Grandes Chroniques de France
This manuscript of the Grandes Chroniques de France was especially made for King Charles V, who almost certainly supervised its production. This book is indeed a symbol of the authority and prestige of the sovereign, which explains why it was written, illuminated and corrected with a lot of care. Two copyists worked on the text: Henri de Trévou (folios 1-386), who copied the Chroniques de Saint-Denis before 1375; and Raoulet d’Orléans, who copied the chronicles of the reigns of Jean le Bon and of Charles V around 1377-1379. Like the choices in text, the iconographic cycle, produced by no less than five illuminators, is also very representative and is an important part of the apologia (formal written defence) of French royal power. Moreover, the chronicles of the reign of Charles V are particularly interesting because they were still very recent events at the time they were written. They are highly illustrated – note particularly the report of Emperor Charles IV’s visit, which is portrayed in 18 miniatures. This visit of the King’s uncle, in early 1378, had a high symbolic and political value in reinforcing the French King’s power.
Saint Augustine, De Civitate Dei, French translation by Raoul de Presles (Book I-X)
Charles V commissioned this French translation of De Civitate Dei, which was produced by Raoul de Presles. From an indication at the end of the manuscript Français 22913 (which contains the following books XI to XXII), we know that Raoul de Presles began his work in November 1371 and completed it in September 1375. The illumination on folio 3 shows him offering his translation to the King. Raoulet d’Orléans, one of the King’s favourite copyists, probably wrote the text under Raoul de Presles’s supervision. It is certain that the translator was also involved with the choice of the iconographic cycle. Three of the many illuminators in charge of the decoration are known: the Master of the Coronation of Charles VI (for the majority of the miniatures); the Master of the Sacre de Charles V (folios 277v-278v); and the Master of the Bible de Jean de Sy (folio384 and 407v).
The Passion Isabeau is a free translation into Old French verse of Pseudo-Bonaventura's Meditationes vitae Christi (Meditations on the life of Christ), which was carried out at the command of Isabeau of Bavaria (c. 1370-1435), spouse of King Charles VI of France, in 1398. This example of popular devotional literature seems to have achieved a remarkable success for it survives in no less than 23 manuscripts. It narrates the events of the last week of Christ's life, punctuated by meditations on the significance of these events for Christian doctrine.
This manuscript contains 28 decorated initials and 36 miniatures painted with gold, as well as line fillers in red, blue and gold. It is one of the most lavishly decorated exemplars to survive and features numerous landscape settings, architectural details and richly varied costumes and facial expressions in its human figures. This book, the illumination of which has been attributed to a Paris workshop active around 1400-1420, seems to be slightly younger than the first copies of the translation, but preserves the original style of illustration.