Histoire de la Première Guerre Punique, in the French translation of Jean Lebègue. Leonardo BRUNI.
Histoire de la Première Guerre Punique, in the French translation of Jean Lebègue.
Histoire de la Première Guerre Punique, in the French translation of Jean Lebègue.
Histoire de la Première Guerre Punique, in the French translation of Jean Lebègue.
Histoire de la Première Guerre Punique, in the French translation of Jean Lebègue.

Histoire de la Première Guerre Punique, in the French translation of Jean Lebègue.

Illuminated manuscript on vellum. France, Paris, ca. 1450. 330 x 230 mm., 1, 72, 1 leaves, vellum. Collation: I-IX8, catchwords and text complete, possibly lacking an opening bifolium with table of contents. Ruled in red ink for two columns for 34 lines (written space: 205 x 105 mm.), written in black ink in Littera batarda, rubricated in red 32 small miniatures above large 3-4 line initials each with gold bar and delicate border decoration in gold and colors. Slight wear to border f. 1, a few original medieval repairs have come unstitched. Prickings visible, very wide, uncropped margins. Some slight smudges but otherwise in very fine condition. Binding: end of the 15th — early 16th-century, panelled leather, blind stamped (including a roll stamp, with fleur-de-lys, crowned fleur-de-lys, and a crowned dolphin), with metal corner & centerpieces, the two clasps engraved with the letter “A,” 19th-century paper label with title on spine (upper joint split). Old label on spine: “Guerre Punique L.B. Aretino 1440 mss.” Red morocco case. Paper paste-down and vellum fly-leaf, both front and back.


1. The text originated in Paris in 1445, where Jean Lebègue (1368-1457) was greffier of the Chambre des Comptes from 1407; the style of the illumination is Parisian. At end, f. 72r: old provenance inscription erased.

2. A loose 19th-century note in French gives a provenance from the library of the Comte Charles d’Oultremont (1753-1803), sold in Antwerp, April 26th, 1830, actually the sale of his widow Anne-Henriette, Comtesse d’Oultremont (1757-1830); P.H. Carpentiers, Catalogus van eene fraye verzameling historische, letterkundige,…boeken, nagelaten door wylen mevrouwe de gravin douairière d’Oultremont, waer van de verkooping zal plaets hebben…op maendag 26 April 1830). They remain one of the oldest noble families of Belgium.

3. Samuel Ashton Thompson-Yates: loose letter to “Dear Yates,” datable to 1884 or later, with related British Museum request slips (Thompson and Bright: A Family of Bibliophiles, see also New York, PML, M 266).


Jean Lebègue, Histoire de la première guerre punique:

ff. 1-2v: translator’s prologueff.

3-4: author’s prologueff. 4-50v: Book I

ff. 51-72: Book II

The Florentine humanist Leonardo Bruni (ca. 1370-1444) compiled his account of the First Punic War (264-241 B.C.) to replace the lost second decade of Livy’s great Roman history. Bruni’s text, written over a period of almost three years (1419-21), was translated some twenty years later from Latin into French by Jean Lebègue to supplement the translation of Livy made earlier by Pierre Bersuire. Bersuire dedicated his translation to Jean II le Bon, King of France and the revised edition to Charles V. King Charles had employed several translators to produce French versions of classical Latin texts and is often seen as having been responsible for the transformation of French into an “intellectual” language. Bersuire had translated all of Livy then known. In his prologue Lebègue wrote that he translated “conforming as best I could to the manner of frère Pierre Berchoire…” (Hedeman 2006, p. 184). After he had finished his translation of the supplement, Lebègue continued to revise his work for independent circulation too. This version, finished in 1445, was dedicated to Charles VII of France (Pons 2002, pp. 95-125). Subsequently, Lebègue’s Histoire de la première guerre punique circulated both through its absorption into historical compilations (Arlima lists five mss.) and in its own right (Arlima lists ten manuscripts, plus five more in the Schoenberg database).

Jean Lebègue was a humanist and functionary at the royal chancellery, and a bibliophile himself. Some fifty of the books in his library are still extant (Ouy 2006). In addition to his other activities, Lebègue was an amateur scribe and an employer of scribes (Ouy 2006, p. 145). Interestingly, he also devised an iconographical program for his translation of Sallust’s Conspiracy of Catiline and the Jugurthine Wars (ca. 1417). The manuscripts Geneva, Bibliothèque publique et universitaire, ms. Lat. 54, c. 1420 and Paris, BnF, ms. Lat 5762 were his personal copies with decoration painted between 1404-1420 (see Hedeman 2006, p.174, Paris 1400, 2004, pp. 205-6). The illumination in the Geneva manuscript is attributed to the Parisian Bedford Master (and his workshop, named after manuscripts illuminated for the duke of Bedford, John of Lancaster, ca. 1415-1435). Lebègue revised his personal copy dramatically in the 1430s. Remarkably also, his divergent modes of visual and verbal translation coexist too in one of the few copies of his Bruni translation written during his lifetime (Paris, BnF, ms. Fr. 23085, dated 1454, see Hedeman 2006, p. 185, with the example of the death penalty of Hannibal who is hanged instead of crucified). Lebègue based his translation on his own copy of Leonardo Bruni’s De bello Punico; Titus Livius, Tertia decas, c. 1415? (Paris, BnF, ms. Lat. 5746; Ouy 2006, p. 164).


Charles VII’s presentation copy of Jean Lebègue’s Histoire de la première guerre punique may not have survived (although the Schoenberg database lists 3 manuscripts that were part of his collection) and there is no definitive version of either the text or the miniatures. The present, former Yates volume with 32 miniatures, is a significant addition to the eighteen or nineteen surviving copies known of the independent text; fifteen were designed to have at least one miniature. The full cycle seems to have consisted of 30-34 miniatures, recorded in only four other copies. Lebègue, compiler of a treatise on paints and inks, almost certainly planned the illustrations as he had done earlier for a translation of Sallust. The miniatures reflect the physical types, landscape formats and architectural buildings favoured by the Bedford Master and his “chief associate,” the Dunois Master, but they are painted to a smoother, more tightly defined finish and by at least two hands, both rooted in the Bedford traditions. Both artists exhibit a predilection for soft tones of old-rose, greens and blues, combined with a limited sense of spatial recession. The Dunois Master, who continued to work in the style of the Bedford Master (and in fact may have been his son), also inherited his workshop compositions. He is named after the Hours of Jean, Bastard of Orléans, Count of Dunois, ca. 1440-50 (London, British Library, ms. Yates Thompson 3, f. 162). He took over the leading role in the Bedford workshop around 1435/40, near the end of the English occupation of Paris during the Hundred Years War. His clientele included noblemen and officials of the French military, like the count of Dunois. His activities continued until ca. 1465. It is in his circle that both illuminators of the present codex are to be found, possibly around ca. 1450.

All miniatures are accompanied by delicate border decoration of finely drawn painted flowers and small curling acanthus leaves. The subjects of the miniatures are:

1. f. 1: Jean Lebègue presents his translation to Charles VII of France

2. f. 3: Bruni writing (see the dress and feet that were changed)

3. f. 4: Citizens expelled from Messina

4. f. 4v: Romans attacking Rhegium

5. f. 7: Roman troops arrive to aid the Mamertines

6. f. 9v: Romans besieging Agrigentum

7. f. 14: Author describing Sicily to a companion

8. f. 17: Romans building ships with beaked prows (the corvus boarding device)

9. f. 18: Carthaginian ships approaching to attack the Roman fleet in port

10. f. 18v: Roman fleet puts Hannibal to flight

11. f. 19v: Romans’ beaked ships defeating the Carthaginians

12. f. 21: Hamilcar attacks the Romans who have withdrawn from the main encampment

13. f. 21v: Crucifixion of Hannibal

14. f. 21v: Romans withdraw from before Palermo

15. f. 23: Carthaginian fleet ranged to block the Romans’ passage to Africa

16. f. 25: Romans defeat a great serpent

17. f. 27: Princes leave Carthage to seek peace with the Romans

18. f. 29v: Carthaginians, helped by elephants, capture the Roman general Marcus Attilius

19. f. 38v: Carthaginians are driven back after failing to capture the Romans’ siege engines

20. f. 41: Appius Claudius bringing reinforcements to Sicily

21. f. 43: More Roman reinforcements arrive before Lilibyaeum

22. f, 48v: Catulus defeats Hamon at sea

23. f. 49v: Carthaginian envoys ask for peace

24. f. 50: Carthaginian envoys receive the peace terms from the Romans

25. f. 51: Carthaginians leaving for home

26. f. 53v: Hamilcar entering Gesira

27. f. 58v: Spendius is made to surrender to Hamilcar

28. f. 59v: Hamilcar has Spendius and Autaricus crucified

29. f. 60: Hannibal about to be crucified (in Paris, BnF, ms. Fr. 23085, d.d 1454, H. is to hanged, after French practice of the time, cf. Hedeman 2006, p. 185)

30. f. 60v: Triumphal procession

31. f. 61: Romans at war

32. f. 69: Defeat of the King of the Gauls

The idea that the noble (and non-noble) élite should gain their education through reading had been quite a new idea a generation earlier, in the time of King Charles V the Wise ®. 1364-80). It was the same king who founded the first French royal library, which, in the time of his son’s reign (d. 1422), had expanded to hold almost a thousand manuscripts (then bought by the Duke of Bedford and transferred to England in 1424). After the military of financial reforms of Charles VII (1422-61), a period of greater stability paved the way for a renewal of artistic activities moving from Paris to the Loire region. The present manuscript, however, is rooted in Parisian traditions. Medieval noblemen — patrons of deluxe codices such as the present book — identified with classical heroes and used classical examples in a very concrete way, without necessarily having a sense of “historical distance.” The manuscript at hand is a very interesting artistic and textual document in showing a 15th-century Parisian humanist’s understanding of the classical world, expressed both verbally and visually. Perhaps Leonardo Bruni was more abstract and comprehensive in his view of Antiquity, but whether the French noble patrons of these days had similar thoughts, remains to be seen. Be that as it may, this book is not only still anchored in medieval traditions, it is also a witness of intellectual renewal. Most copies of Lebègue’s Guerre Punique are in public institutions.



Donal Byrne, “An early french humanist and Sallust : Jean Lebègue and the iconographical programme for the Catiline and Jugurtha,” in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 49 (1986), pp. 41-65 and illus. pp. 13-21.

E. Hallaire, “Quelques manuscrits de Jean Le Bègue,” Scriptorium, 8 (1954), pp. 291-292

A. Martin, Jean le Bègue, greffier de la Chambre des comptes de Paris, diplôme d’archiviste paléographe, École nationale des chartes, Paris, 1908. Résumé dans Positions des thèses de l’École des chartes, 1908, pp. 164-167.

J. Monfrin, “La connaissance de l’Antiquité et le problème de l’humanisme en langue vulgaire dans la France du XVe siècle,” The Late Middle Ages and the Dawn of Humanism Outside Italy. Proceedings of the International Conference. Louvain May 11-13, 1970, Leuven 1972, pp. 131-170 (Mediaevalia Lovaniensia, Series I, Studia 1).

G. Ouy, “Jean Lebègue (1368-1457), auteur, copiste et bibliophile,” in Patrons, Authors and Workshops: Books and Book Production in Paris Around 1400, éd. Godfried Croenen & Peter Ainsworth, Leuven 2006, pp. 143-171 (Synthema 4), in this book also:

A. Hedeman, “Making the Past present: visual translation in Jean Lebègue’s ‘Twin’ manuscripts of Sallust,” pp. 173-96.

N. Pons, “Leonardo Bruni, Jean le Bègue et la cour, échec d’une tentative d’humanisme à l’italienne,” Humanisme et culture géographique à l’époque du Concile de Constance: autour de Guillaume de Fillastre. Actes du colloque de l’Université de Reims, 18-19 novembe 1999, éd. Didier Marcotte, Turnhout 2002, pp. 95-125 (Terrarum orbis 3)

N. Pons, “Erudition et Politique: la personnalité de Jean le Bègue d’après des note marginales de ses manuscrits,” in Les serviteurs de l’Etat au Moyen Age, XXIXe congress de la S.H.M.E.S. (Pau, Mai 1998), Paris 1999, p. 282.

Price: $1,650,000.00

Item ID: 4788

See all items in History, Manuscripts
See all items by