An Exhibition from the Collection of Lawrence J. Schoenberg
Books of Hours
The medieval Book of Hours evolved out of the monastic cycle of prayer which divided the day into eight segments, or "hours": Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, Nones, Compline, and Vespers. By the early fifteenth century, the format of the Book of Hours had developed to satisfy the demands of private, as opposed to communal, devotion. These portable books are smaller in format than their monastic forebears, designed for use by individuals, with a liturgical system somewhat less complicated than monastic liturgy and more "user-friendly." A Book of Hours invariably begins with a liturgical calendar, listing feast days in chronological order along with a complicated method of calculating the date of Easter. The seven Penitential Psalms are usually included as well, and additional prayers (devoted to particular saints or personal issues) according to the desires and needs of the owner.
In Books of Hours are preserved some of the finest works of medieval art. Each section of the manuscript traditionally begins with an illuminated miniature that complements the prayers, to stimulate contemplation and meditation in the reader. Because they were expensive and spectacular works of art, the ownership of these manuscripts was limited mainly to royalty, nobility and the very wealthy. They are often adorned with coats of arms, and portraits of patrons may sometimes be found within the miniatures. As their popularity increased, an efficient system of book production and trade developed to match the demand for Books of Hours. Professional scribes produced the texts in one location, the miniatures were painted in artists' workshops, and the two brought together in the bookbinder's hall. Patrons could choose the texts and miniatures they wanted, or purchase complete, generic manuscripts in stationers' book shops. A thriving economy developed around the production of Books of Hours, especially in centers such as Bruges and Utrecht.
This manuscript was almost certainly written for use by a member of the French royal court. The greatly extended calendar is full of events directly relating to members of the Valois royal family. Births, deaths, travel itineraries, weddings, battles, and events pertaining to the struggle against Protestantism are recorded in detail throughout. One entry describes how Henri II travelled to Germany in 1551, leaving his wife, Catherine de'Medici, in charge. Another describes how the death of Francois II in 1560 left his wife, Mary Queen of Scots, a young, childless widow.
Parchment, 93 folios, 146 x 103 (120 x 76) mm, 1 column, 17 lines, in Latin and French, written in Italic script.
This manuscript is a fine example of early fifteenth-century book production. The miniatures, produced separately from the rest of the manuscript, were then tipped in by the binder. The calendar includes no surprises among its typical cluster of French saints, and the texts are standard--the four Gospel narratives of the Crucifixion, the Hours of the Virgin, the Penitential Psalms, the Hours of the Cross, and the Hours of the Dead. The manuscript is distinguished by the quality of the miniatures, their gold and white banded backgrounds characteristic of the Bourges region. This miniature of the Annunciation precedes Matins, the most elaborate of the Hours. Mary reads from a lectern outside a tent before her mother Anne's house (the inscription at the top of the structure in the background reads "Sanctae Annae Domnum," or Saint Anne's house). The Angel Gabriel kneels before her, his words written on the scroll he unfurls, as the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove.
Parchment, 98 folios, 134 x 84 (91 x 47) mm, 1 column, 24 lines, in Latin, written in Gothic cursive script.
In addition to the standard elements, this illuminated Book of Hours includes two French texts devoted to the Virgin Mary--the Fifteen Joys of the Virgin and the Five Joys. Each main section of the manuscript begins with a full-page illuminated miniature, ten in all, with wide borders filled with foliage and flowers. The binding is by Doll, a French binder of the early nineteenth century who also bound a traveling book collection for Napoleon.
Parchment, 156 folios, 155 x 117 (152 x 94) mm, 1 column, 15 lines, in Latin and French, written in Gothic script.
Although the liturgy of this Book of Hours is of English use, and calendar notations and a lengthy added rubric in Middle English speak to its English provenance, it seems likely that the manuscript was used by an outcast community of English Catholics on the Continent, not in England, after the Reformation. The binding appears to be Continental; there is a French inscription on the flyleaf; the name of St. Thomas of Canterbury has not been effaced (it was often damaged in English Books of Hours after the advent of Protestantism); and the illuminations have been confidently ascribed to Bruges.
As was common in this period, the illuminations in this Book of Hours were produced in a different workshop from the rest of the manuscript, purchased individually and sewn into the manuscript when it was bound. Of extraordinary importance is that all fifteen miniatures in this manuscript are signed with printed marks by the artist, a very rare feature that provides some insight into the mechanics of the booktrade at the time. The miniatures are by the Master of Otto van Moerdrecht, or by one of the artists in his circle. The printed mark in the upper right corner of each miniature (a white letter [I] within a red-filled circle) was a registered trademark, used in accordance with a Bruges statute requiring artists to use such stamps to identify their work as actually having been created in Bruges. This was in part an attempt to stem the flow of miniatures imported from other centers such as Utrecht. The trademark served the same function as a "Made in America" label--to keep business at home. Relatively few artists took this regulation seriously--these marks are rare--but their use here is a valuable record of the political climate surrounding the thriving book trade in the first half of the fifteenth century. The miniature shown here precedes the Prime office. A group of soldiers lead Christ before Pilate, who prepares to wash his hands in the basin to the right. The artist's mark is clearly visible in the upper right corner.
Parchment, 179 folios, 189 x 128 (107 x 70) mm, 1 column, 19 lines, in Latin, written in Gothic script.
In addition to the style of the miniatures, a Dutch provenance, and notes written in Dutch in the late fifteenth century, the inclusion in the calendar of St. Willibrod, Bishop of Utrecht (d. 739), points to the manuscript's probable origin there. The miniature shown here is the traditional illustration for the Seven Penitential Psalms: King David, his crown humbly resting at his feet, kneels penitently in prayer. His harp identifies him as the Psalmist. In the background is the city of Jerusalem, envisioned here as a series of Gothic edifices.
Parchment, 129 folios, 111 x 76 (60 x 38) mm, 1 column, 18 lines, in Latin, written in Gothic script.
The inclusion in the calendar of St. Launomarus (18 January) helps to localize this Book of Hours to Northwestern France or perhaps even the Loire valley. St. Launomarus was the abbot of Corbion, a small monastery near Chartres. After his death in the late sixth century, he was buried in Blois. His cult is fairly localized within the Chartres diocese and the Loire valley, and the inclusion of his feastday in the calendar, combined with the fact that the liturgy in the manuscript follows the usage of Bourges, also in the Loire valley, makes it fairly certain that the manuscript was produced in that region. This miniature precedes the Office of the Dead. Job, naked and unshaven, sits knee-deep on a dung heap as a friend attempts to console him in his misfortune.
Parchment, 87 folios, 163 x 100 (97 x 58) mm, 1 column, 21 lines, in Latin, written in Gothic cursive script.
This manuscript is illustrated throughout with lovely biblical scenes drawn in a pastoral style. The manuscript itself appears to have been intended for use by a priest--prayers for the sacraments (e.g., Extreme Unction), and for before and after Mass, are interspersed among the otherwise standard contents. Two notable inclusions are a prayer "to the seven altars" and several votive prayers in German. The pages shown here illustrate the Hours of the Cross: on the left, the Crucifixion, and the Entombment on the right.
Parchment, 172 folios, 80 x 57 (67 x 50) mm, 1 column, 20 - 25 lines, in Latin and German, written in Humanistic cursive.