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Jean Poyer, born in the mid-1400s and died ca. 1503, in Tours, France, was a French miniature painter and manuscript illuminator. As a multitalented artist - illuminator, painter, draftsman, and festival designer active from 1483 until his death - he was a painter of Renaissance France, working for the courts of three successive French kings: Louis XI, Charles VIII, and Louis XII.
Popular and well respected during his lifetime, in the 16th century he was compared to Jan van Eyck. Yet by the 17th century, he was all but forgotten, as were many painters and illuminators who did not often sign their work.
The work of his early period (in the 1480s) reveals Poyer's mastery of perspective, refined use of light and color, and realistic human depictions, with influences of the Renaissance, a discernible break from the Late Gothic style. Poyer's style, though quite different, evolved from that of the previous generation. Painters in Tours in the 1460s and 1470s had certain stylistic graces - such as their partiality for hues of lilac and plum. Poyer traveled to northern Italy and became motivated by the works of artists such as Andrea Mantegna and Giovanni Bellini.
During Poyer's mature period (from the 1490s until his death ca. 1503), he produced his most impressive creations. His work began to show a lighter, more pastel palette, with finer brushstrokes, as can be seen in the Prayer Book. His work, however, was ever-changing, and many of the larger manuscripts retained aspects of his earlier, more monumental manner, apparent in the Hours of Henry VIII and the Lallemant Missal.
Poyer did not work alone, as was common for major artists of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, but managed a workshop. He hired only illuminators capable of emulating his subtle style; and today, a work is not always easily distinguished between the master's hand and his assistant's. Some illuminations were entirely by his assistants, while in some books, Poyer would paint a portion of a miniature and then his helpers would complete the work.
When Poyer died, his workshop collapsed and his (some would say less talented) rival in Tours, Jean Bourdichon, expanded his influence by increasing the production of his many assistants. Some shop members, as well as other painters who refused to join Bourdichon's factory, moved to Paris. The influence of Poyer's subtle style was not extensive, and only one painter, the Master of Claude de France, should be considered his true artistic heir.
Poyer had many rivals but few peers. The Master of Jacques de Besançon worked for some of the same clients (such as King Charles VIII), but his broad style has none of Poyer's subtlety. As his competitor, Bourdichon was working in a similar style, in the same locale, in the same time period, and often for the same clientele.
Poyer’s extensive list of work includes the following:
- Illuminating the Briçonnet Book of Hours, a tutorial volume which was commissioned by Guillaume Briçonnet, France's secretary of the treasury under King Charles VIII, as a gift to his wife. Today it is housed at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris.
- Illuminating the Hours of Henry VIII.
- Illuminating the "Tilliot Hours."
- Illuminating the Lallemant Missal.
- Illuminating the Petites Heures of Anne de Bretagne.
- Painting the Loches Triptych.
- Painting 1,031 coats of arms to be attached to the candles and torches used at the funeral of Louis XI's Queen Charlotte of Savoy.
- Painting a schoolbook, a treatise on the Apostles' Creed, and his portrait for Charles VIII.
- Illuminating a special prayer book, a manuscript, that Queen Anne de Bretagne commissioned to teach her son, Charles Orlando, Dauphin of France, his catechism.
- Painting of Vespers: Massacre of the Innocents.
- Painting of Flight Into Egypt.
- Painting of Christ Carrying the Cross, the Crucifixion, and the Entombment.
- Painting of the Meal in the House of Simon the Pharisee.
- Painting of The Mocking of Elisha. Today it is at the Art Institute of Chicago.
- Designed and supervised elaborate theatrical spectacles for Charles VIII of France and Anne of Brittany's ceremonial entry into Tours following their marriage (of 6 December 1491).
- Managing the pageants at Tours for the new King Louis XII (whose reign started on 7 April 1498).
The Morgan Library, New York City, carried “The first one-man show in the United States devoted to the work of a manuscript illuminator, ‘Jean Poyer: Artist to the Court of Renaissance France’” from 25 January through 6 May 2001.