BOOK OF HOURS: Illuminated Manuscript on Parchment, 340 pages & 3 Miniatures

Northern French or Dutch Artist & Scribe
Late medieval Book of Hours written and illuminated for a woman patron who is depicted in a double-page of miniatures kneeling before the Virgin… Read more
Published in 1450 by Unpublished.

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BOOK OF HOURS: Illuminated Manuscript on Parchment, 340 pages & 3 Miniatures by Northern French or Dutch Artist & Scribe

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Late medieval Book of Hours written and illuminated for a woman patron who is depicted in a double-page of miniatures kneeling before the Virgin Mary to receive the gift of this manuscript.

This Book of Hours was made in a northern French or Dutch workshop of the second half of the fifteenth century. It has attractive female provenance as well as 3 miniatures containing 4 images of books! The patronal prayer to St Elizabeth of Hungary below the image of the kneeling patron may well reveal our fifteenth century woman owner’s name - we do not know whether the book was commissioned by the woman in the miniature for herself or for her daughter - as is so often the case, the question of female agency is unclear. The choice of St Katherine for the third miniature on the final page of the manuscript is a statement of female empowerment - her broken torture wheel lies on the ground behind her as she stands defiant, holding another book and, unusually, a raised sword. Books of Hours were often made for a female readership: this book seems to bear the imprint of a particular fifteenth century woman reader.

BINDING: Sixteenth century French full calf binding (11.5x15,5cm) with oval gilt vignette of the crucifixion to the upper board and a similar oval of the annunciation to the lower board with the words from the Ave Maria prayer below: ‘Ave Gratia Plena’. On both boards a short gilt strap appears above the oval with an erased name within. perhaps 7 letters long, and ending ‘NE’. The spine has been renewed, probably in the 19th century with 5 raised bands and ‘Livre D’Heures’ in gilt. Marbled paper endpapers from the same period, remnants of a book label to the front pastedown. All edges gilt.

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: Parchment page size: 150x103mm; 170 folios, 340 pages, lacking 1st leaf of Penitential Psalms and 1st leaf of the Hours of the Cross. Written in a Gothic hand in a mixture of Latin (mostly) and French. 15 lines per page; ruled space: 58x92mm; Double page of miniatures (Presentation of Manuscript and Annunciation) with borders facing each other, ff25v and 26r and 1 inset miniature of St Catherine on the final leaf, f170v. There are 16 borders and numerous (c1500) 1- and 2-line initial letters in liquid gold on pink, blue and white grounds throughout the text. Upper outer blank corners of initial 14 leaves (calendar) repaired, occasional light dust & finger-soiling, noticeably so in the Penitential Psalms. Otherwise very good condition.

ILLUMINATION: 3 miniatures: 1 depicting the book’s owner wearing a red gown, kneeling before the Virgin who holds this book in her outstretched right hand; slight wear to the paint surface; domed frame to the image (55x60mm) Prayer to St Elizabeth below and a border of acanthus and flowers. 2 Annunciation with Gabriel in red and Mary in blue, hands together in prayer above her book; the Holy Spirit in the form of a Dove hovering above, golden rays emanating. A lectern behind the Virgin Mary has a second book open on its top (55x75mm). ‘Domine labia mea aperies’ text below and a full border; again rubbing to the paint surface, no doubt from finger pressure during prayer. 3 St Katherine appears in a countryside setting with trees behind her as well as her broken wheel; sword and book in hand. Browning and finger marking to the whole leaf, slight rubbing to the paint surface (55x45mm). The 16 borders are made up of beautifully painted intertwined acanthus leaves, thistles, flowers, strawberries and geometric designs in green, blue, gold and red.

PROVENANCE: Written and illuminated in northern France for a female patron c1450, possibly named Elizabeth. Ownership signature on the verso of the flyleaf may read: ‘Ed March 1864’; On the verso of the flyleaf written in ink, a partly accurate 19th century bookseller’s description: ‘3 Miniatures 16 borders, 308 pages Caen 1350’. Acquired by Carys Roberts (1946-2020), Trumpington, Cambridge in the 1980s, thence by descent.


Prayers ff1v-2r, Salve Regina; f2v 16th century manuscript jottings with possible signature, ending ‘Comte’ - a French Count?

Calendar: ff 3-17, written in French, 2 pages per month; 17 lines per page in 3 columns, in red and black ink, and emblazoned initial letters ‘KL’ - Kalende - at the head of each month. The preponderance of saints and bishops associated with Normandy suggests a northern French workshop for the manuscript, probably Paris or Rouen. Followed by 4 blanks, ff14-17

Gospel Sequences - with 5 borders: ff18-25

Miniatures: ff25v-26r; Prayer to Saint Elizabeth below the first miniature; ‘Domine labia mea aperies’ (Lord, open thou our lips) beneath the Annunciation scene opposite.

Hours of the Virgin: ff 26-86

Penitential Psalms: ff87-98 - begins at ‘Turbatus est’ (verse 7) of the first Penitential Psalm, suggesting a leaf wanting.

Litany ff98v-103v with 5 pages of saints’ names.

Office of the Dead ff 104r-149

Hours of the Cross ff150-152 begins part way through first Hymn, lacking prior leaf.

Hours of the Holy Spirit ff153-155v

Obsecro te 155v-159r - line 79 appears in the masculine form ‘familo tuo’ - apparently altered in another hand to suggest a woman owner.

Fifteen Joys of the Virgin 159v-167v written in French

Suffrages 165r-170v Intemerata, Prayer to Saint Jacques - James, Nicolas, Mary Magdalene and finally St Katherine.

Manuscript Books of Hours are typically described as the best-sellers of their time which can transport us into the presence and intimate thoughts of people living 500 years ago. As Sandra Hindman puts it: ‘Every Book of Hours gives us a sense of ritual. We can imagine it being opened, cradled in the hand, carried about in a pouch suspended from a belt, and wrapped in velvet cloth... Through the pictures, owners could share an experience with the Virgin, and admire the art of local painters.’ The intimacy of a fifteenth century reader’s relationships with their Book of Hours is best conveyed by Christopher de Hamel: ‘No one can claim understanding of the late Middle Ages who has not read a Book of Hours in bed’ (Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts).

Full details

Added under Manuscript
Publisher Unpublished
Date published 1450
Subject 1 Manuscript
Product code 8243

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