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Rare Book & Manuscript Library Exhibitions
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Bibiliotheca Schoenbergensis
An Exhibition from the Collection of Lawrence J. Schoenberg

The Book of Hours in the Age of Printing

It is often asserted that early printed books were designed to resemble the manuscripts they were soon to displace. Like many historical commonplaces, however, this one is both accurate and inaccurate. While it is true that, at first blush, early printed books can look a lot like manuscripts from the same period, this is probably less a matter of conscious intent than of limited design alternatives. It took time for the printed book to develop its own conventions, its own style sheet. Nowhere is this slow evolution more strikingly apparent than in early printed editions of popular liturgical and devotional genres. Books of Hours had a long life after the coming of the printed book. They continued in printed form through the seventeenth century, especially in France. Although they share similarities with earlier manuscript traditions, they also inaugurate some new directions. Above all, they often lack the elegance and sumptuousness of the illuminated manuscript. They represent the broadening of devotional traditions; they seem to speak to an audience that is wealthy, though not necessarily noble.

The two printed Books of Hours on display capture both the Janus-faced character of many books in the early sixteenth century and the arrival of a new vocabulary of the page by the early senventeenth century. Printed in the first quarter of the Xvth century 1519 in a typeface that evokes an older gothic batard hand, item 8 is redolent with full page and border illustrations designed to serve as devotional aids. Textual breaks and emphases are made by hand in blue and red inks. And yet, the crudeness of the woodcuts and the clumsy page designs reflect a book made to appear like something it was not: a livre de luxe. Item 9, on the other hand, strikes out in a different direction. Shorn of much of the iconography associated with the genre, it is set in a clean, roman face, generously spaced and leaded. In place of the rough woodcuts, we have more finely executed engravings. However, there are relatively few of them. The paucity of illustrations assumes, perhaps, a reader now comfortable with the printed word and less in need of images to sustain devotional practices. It may also reflect the coming of age of the typographic book and the conventions of reading it assumed.

Book of Hours (use of Soisson)
Paris: Berthold Rembolt, 1519

A later binder of this book so trimmed the upper edge of the page that parts of the illustrated border are missing.

Book of Hours (Heures de Nostre Dame, a l'usage de Rome, Latin, Francois)
Paris: Sebastien Hure, 1519

This text has a well-preserved, gold-tooled contemporary binding that records the name of an early owner: "Anne" stamped in gold on the front cover, "Blanchard" on the rear. This valuable information confirms the persistance of the association of women with the devotional tradition of Books of Hours.

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