Book of Hours, of unknown use (perhaps Amiens), in Latin and French, illuminated manuscript on parchment

[France (probably Amiens), second quarter of the fifteenth century (probably c. 1430)]


8vo, 180 by 136mm, 111 leaves (plus 3 paper endleaves at front and one at back), wanting a number of single leaves and offices from the Hours of the Virgin (see below), collation: i7 (endleaf at front cut away), ii2 (bifolium with additional material), iii4 (wanting at least outer bifolium), iv4 (wanting at least inner bifolium), v7 (miniature on tipped in singleton), vi6, vii8 (with two miniatures on added singletons), viii5 (miniature on added singleton, and wanting i), ix7 (with two miniatures on added singletons), x7 (miniature on added singleton), xi6, xii7 (miniature on added singleton), xiii-xiv6, xv8, followed by 21 original leaves now filled with additional devotional material, including 2 stubs after fol. 93, single column, 20 lines of a rounded gothic bookhand, capitals touched in yellow, red rubrics, one line initials in blue or liquid gold with elaborate contrasting penwork which trails into the margin with long whip-like tails, larger initials in gold on blue and pink angular-edged grounds, two very large initials ‘O’ opening the ‘O intemerata’ and ‘Obsecro te’ prayers in burnished gold on bicoloured grounds heightened with white penwork and ending in innermost margin in a gold and coloured text bar extending the height of the column, both upper and lower margisn filled with profuse floral border of thin rinceaux foliage terminating in gold leaves, realistic coloured flower heads and sprays of acanthus leaves, eight double page openings with a full-page miniature on the right set within an arched topped coloured frame and with an expansive burnished gold ground (some heightened with fine yellow brushstrokes), that facing a large initial in blue or pink enclosing foliage and set on burnished gold grounds, the following text within a text frame of gold and coloured bars on three sides, and both pages with full floral borders of sprays of acanthus leaves (some mirrored and enclosing panels of pounced gold leaf reminiscent of the Parisian work of the Bedford Master), rinceaux foliage terminating in simple gold leaves and more realistic coloured flower heads, some crackling to gold and slight flaking of paint in places, else in excellent condition, endleaves at front with attached late fifteenth-century devotional woodcut image of demons carrying human souls into the torments of Hell or stoking the flames of a hellmouth with bellows, as well as a small circular pilgrim badge (marks left by others once attached there, but now wanting),the back pastedown with a similar devotional woodcut of the Coronation of the Virgin marked “Nürnberg c. 1480?” in early twentieth-century pencil, loosening from binding in places.; nineteenth-century brown leather over pasteboards, with single floral rollstamp and a central board filled with chevrons, somewhat scuffed on some surfaces, all within fitted brown leather slipcase, lined with marbled paper, and with strange mixed-language inscription “Book of Heures / Made for the use of the church of Amiens / circa 1410” gilt-tooled on spine in floral and chainlink compartments.


The volume comprises a Calendar (fol. 1v) preceded by devotional material listing the Deadly Sins in French at the foot of fol. 1r; Hymns and Gospel readings (fol. 8r); the Hours of the Virgin, now including Lauds (fol. 23r), Prime (fol. 32r), Terce (fol. 38r), Sext (fol. 40r), Vespers (fol. 44r), and Compline (fol. 51r); the Seven Penitential Psalms (fol. 55r), followed by a Litany; the Office of the Dead (fol. 67r); the O intemerata (fol. 89r), and Obsecro te (fol. 91r). The leaves after fol. 93 comprise early additions to the volume of prayers indicating a Franciscan Use (to SS. Francis, Anthony of Padua, and Clare, among others) as well as more general subjects such as “contre le pestilence” (fol. 102v: ‘against the plague’). Here a small devotional printed image of the Virgin and Child has been loosely enclosed in the book. The book ends with the ‘Seven Os’.


The complex borders around the miniatures with their thin rinceaux foliage and gold infill within sections marked off by mirrored crisscrossing plant tendrils shows a clear debt to the work of the influential Parisian workshop of the Bedford Master. This is entirely in keeping with the artistic influences of Amiens after the fall of Paris to the English armies around 1420 and the exodus of artists from there to surrounding cities (see S. Nash, Between France and Flanders, 1999, on this, especially chs. 1, 3-4). The modelling of the figures and their simple but expressive facial features might also fit well within contemporary Amiens, but the wide burnished gold grounds behind each scene (some with yellow fronds painted over) and orange and soft-pink frames point westwards into the Low Countries. 

The large miniatures comprise: (1) fol. 22v, the Kiss of Judas; (2) fol. 31v, Christ before Pilate; (3) fol. 35v, the Tormenting of Christ; (4) fol. 39v, Christ carrying the Cross; (5) fol. 44v, the Deposition from the Cross; (6) fol. 52v, Christ being laid in his tomb; (7) fol. 54v, Christ seated in Judgement as the dead rise from their graves; (8) a funeral service, held over a coffin.


1. The volume was most probably produced in Amiens in the decades after the Bedford Master’s domination of Parisian illumination (fl. 1415-1435). The Calendar contains an appeal in red ornamental capitals to St. Fuscianus/Fuscien (11 December), the third-century missionary and martyr who proselytised among the Gallic tribe of the Morins and was beheaded just outside of Amiens. However, its commissioner may have had contacts further afield to the west, and despite the inscription on the modern case, the surviving readings for Prime (antiphon: “Assumpta est …” and capitulum: “Que est ista …”) do not agree with those recorded for Amiens, and the localisable saints take us into modern Belgium (note SS. Lambert, 17 September, and Hubert, 3 November, both of Liège, in the Calendar; and see ‘illumination’ section below). Medieval Amiens was a wealthy and splendid city. In 1471, Louis XI described it as “une des meilleures, plus anciennes, somptueuses, notables et puissantes villes du Royaume”. It sat on the border of the opulently wealthy nations of France and the Burgundian Netherlands, and exploited this position to its fullest affect, supplying administrators and courtiers to both from its aristocracy, as well as using its site on the crossing of the River Somme to concentrate international trade between Flanders, northern France and England, within its walls. It had an estimated population of 20,000 in 1500, making it one of the largest cities in the French kingdom, and had twelve churches, ten monasteries and religious institutions, as well as at least nine chapels. Numerous libraire, book producers and illuminators are recorded in the town, executing commissions for these institutions as well as the powerful échevinage, the town council, who regularly commissioned works of art and illuminated manuscripts for the churches of the town and for presentation to visiting nobles. This book may have been commissioned as just such a noble gift, or by a wealthy bourgeois traveller.

The original owner’s grasp of Latin may have been weak, and a near-contemporary hand has translated the names of the months and many titles of feasts in the Calendar into French, while another fine calligraphic inscription of about the same date adds the French devotional verse: “Chaste est plus belle / humilitie plus leure / et charite est la mileure” to blank space at the foot of fol. 7v.

2. The book was still in French-speaking ownership when the apparent motto “Courtois” was added in the seventeenth century at the end of the text, but by the late eighteenth century had passed into German hands, receiving a page of descriptive notes in that language dated 1777 on its back paper endleaf.

3. Edward A. Woods (d. 1927), bibliophile of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, USA, who owned an extensive collection of printed books and commissioned a number of fine private printings of texts in the second decade of the twentieth century from the Mosher Press (including A. Pebody’s translation of Cicero, De Amicitia, R.L. Stevenson’s Will O’ the Mill and Tennyson’s In Memoriam in 1913, 1915 and 1920): his early twentieth-century engraved heraldic bookplate with the motto “Virtus vera nobilitas est” and the handwritten additions “091” and “MSL 5”, pasted to front paper endleaf. 


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