The following two images are from MS Type 443, an illuminated, late 15th century book of hours in the digital collection of Harvard’s Houghton Library.*
The book of hours originated in the 13th century. One of the most common forms of late Medieval illuminated manuscript, it was a religious text for laypeople, often women. Many of these volumes were important works of art and indicators of social status, though less elaborate versions were available for those of moderate means, especially following the development of mass book production in the 1400s. These books provided a framework for Christian devotion throughout the year by organizing psalms and prayers, the choice of which could be adapted to different tastes. Most books of hours include calendars and seasonal or zodiacal themes like those below. And like MS Type 443, most books of hours were written in Latin.
October, carrying grain:
November, gathering acorns:
From the catalog description of MS Typ 443:
The text is written in a gothic rotunda book-hand in one column.
Each page has an outer border panel in tempera and gold in trompe-l’oeil style. Many pages have full borders in this style. There are also 7 miniatures, 14 historiated borders, 28 historiated initials, and 24 calendar illustrations in tempera and gold. (At least 23 further miniatures originally in the ms. are now missing.) The illuminators include the Master of the Houghton Miniatures (named for this ms.), the Ghent Associates of the Master of Mary of Burgundy, the Louthe Master or Simon Marmion, and the Master of the Dresden Prayerbook.
Trompe-l’oeil, meaning “to deceive the eye,” is a style of painting which utilizes perspective and shading to create the illusion of three dimensions on a flat surface. I’ve seen it in other online books of hours, but used here it is especially lovely and delicate (it’s what drew me to the volume in the first place). Do check out the links to the illuminators above, it’s really fascinating stuff.
Looking at these pages I also became curious about the structure of the book and the text itself. Unfortunately, my Latin and palaeography skills aren’t quite up to the task, but I found two websites with more information:
— The Frick Fine Arts Library at the University of Pittsburgh has a very nice page detailing the structure of a typical book of hours, featuring examples and images from one of their holdings, the Frick Book of Hours.
— Medievalist.net, run by Glenn Gunnhouse of Georgia State University, is fantastic. It includes an introduction to books of hours and an entire book of hours in Latin and English, side by side, plus a calendar of saint’s days, an entire YouTube channel, and list of online resources for Medieval art.
For general information on Medieval illumination check out these sites:
— Highlights of Digital Scriptorium. This database provides access to manuscripts from a number of institutions, and has made available many wonderful images.
— Continuing their tradition of excellent web tutorials, the British Library has a great site on illuminated manuscripts. It’s split into an into an introduction and five time periods, from pre-800 AD up to 1400-1600. Lots of nice images here, too.
— The National Library of the Netherlands features images and information related to several types of manuscripts, including highlights like “fabulous animals,” “death by unnatural causes,” and “devils and demons.” (The images on this site are supposed to enlarge when you click them, but maybe there’s something wrong with my browser, becuase it’s not working.)
*Special thanks to the Houghton Library for allowing me to use these images and adding the attributions.