Augustine, La Cité de Dieu
AUGUSTINE, LA CITÉ DE DIEU
In 1371 the French king Charles V commissioned Raoul de Presles to translate into French De civitate Dei (‘The City of God’) by the church father Augustine. The king was of the opinion that this work, which was of fundamental importance for the relationship between church and state in the Middle Ages, should be accessible to members of his court who had no knowledge of the Latin language. Raoul de Presles completed his translation in 1375.
Gerard Meerman bought a collection of manuscripts belonging to the Paris Collège de Clermont in 1764, and he discovered among them a folio volume comprising the text of books 11 to 22. Five years later he bought the first volume, also a folio on vellum but much more sumptuously and beautifully executed, at an auction in Paris. The manufacture of this manuscript, comprising the text of books 1 to 10, had been commissioned by Jacques d’Armagnac; after his execution in 1477 it was completed by order of the French diplomat and chronicler Philippe de Commines. It contains 11 large and 275 small miniatures. On the first large miniature we see the French king being presented with the translation.
Meerman now owned two manuscripts which were related to one another in content, but not in their execution. In order to make the two volumes a uniform set, Meerman had both bindings ‘ripped’ off (in the words of the book historian P.C. Boeren), after which the manuscripts were provided with a Jansenist binding, which is a plain, scarcely decorated leather binding.
Do we know what the original binding on volume one looked like? Yes, because the second volume that belongs to The Hague set has been preserved in the municipal library in Nantes. This binding has wooden boards covered with red velvet, and silver shells have been applied, corresponding to the shells in the coat of arms of the Commines family.