Book of Hours, Use of Rome, in Latin and Dutch, illuminated manuscript on vellum, in a signed binding by Ludovicus Bloc.

Low Countries (probably Bruges), c. 1460


160 by 110mm., 180 leaves (plus an original endleaf at front and back), uncollatable without disbinding, but most probably textually complete, loss of a single miniature, another (on fol. 13v) with folds visible on back of leaf which suggest it was once removed and framed and subsequently returned to the volume, modern foliation in pencil on versos (followed here), single column, 16 lines in a large and impressive late gothic bookhand, capitals touched in yellow, red rubrics, one-line initial in blue with red penwork or liquid gold with black penwork, larger initials in burnished gold on blue or pink grounds touched with white (those opening minor texts with three quarter decorated borders of foliage, large initials in blue or pink with scalloping white penwork, enclosing foliage and on brightly burnished gold grounds, more crucial hours with similar large initial and full borders of acanthus leaf sprays, more realistic foliage and fruit, bezants and dots, five full-page arch-topped miniatures with full borders of coloured acanthus leaves and foliage, each of these facing a text page with a large illuminated initial and full border in same, slight discolouration at edges of leaves, minor spots and marks, good condition with wide and clean margins, in contemporary signed panel-stamped calf by Ludovicus Bloc, with his name and inscription: “OB LAUDEM XPRISTI LIBRUM HUNC RECTE LIGAV” in thin panels with fleur-de-lys at their corners forming a rectangle in the centre of each board, two brass bosses on each board at outer corner, some small scuffs, and skilful modern rebacking (new leather cracking along joints, but solid), remnants of two numbers or letters once on rebacked spine and now scratched away.


Most probably produced in the southern Netherlands for a patron who spoke Flemish, but lived on the French-Belgian border: with SS. Theobald of Provins (30 June), Leufred of Evreux (21 June), and Arnulf of Metz (18 July) in Calendar, and St Omer (“Audomar”) in Litany. The partial alphabet may have been added to the front pastedown by or for the original owner, and elsewhere the inclusion of these has been taken to indicate use of the book by children, the alphabet added in order to help them learn to read.


The volume includes: a Calendar (fol. 1r); the Hours of the Cross (fol. 14r); the Hours of the Holy Spirit (fol. 21r); the Passion reading from John (fol. 26r); the Obsecro te (fol. 27r) and O intemerata (fol. 31r); the Hours of the Virgin, with Matins (fol. 35r), Lauds (fol. 52r), Prime (fol. 63r), Terce (fol. 69r), Sext (fol. 73r), Nones (fol. 77r), Vespers (fol. 81r), and Compline (fol. 88r); the Seven Penitential Psalms (fol. 95r), followed by a Litany and prayers; lesser hours of the Virgin (fol. 116r); prayers in Dutch opening with one by Pope Sixtus (fol. 187r), and including one against pestilence (most probably the Black Death or Bubonic Plague) on fol. 157v; the Office of the Dead (fol. 152r). Many rubrics and instructions for use in the main texts are in Dutch. At the end on originally blank leaves a sixteenth-century hand has added further prayers.

The inclusion of the prayer for use against the pestilence is a fascinating feature. While the Black Death came to Europe in 1342, there were numerous other outbreaks throughout the second half of the fourteenth and first half of the fifteenth centuries. The centrality of the southern Netherlands to the trade routes of the whole of Northern Europe ensured that it was often affected more seriously than its more provincial neighbours, and the inhabitants responded through piety and even public flagellation in increasing attempts to appease God’s wrath. The commissioner of the book could not have known that he lived in the initial decades after the ending of this century of disease, and the terrible effects of the illness were a recent memory to him.


The miniatures include: 1. fol. 13v, the Crucifixion; 2. fol. 34v, the Annunciation to the Virgin; 3. Fol. 94v, King David kneeling in prayer; 4. Fol. 115v, the Coronation of the Virgin; 5. A Pope-saint kneeling before an altar with a cardinal in attendance holding his triple-tiered crown, the saint gazing adoringly at an effigy of Christ on the altar surrounded by the tools of the mass as well as the objects of the Crucifixion.


This is an excellent and well-preserved example of a signed binding, a form of fine-binding brought to an art-form in itself in the fifteenth and sixteenth-centuries in the southern Netherlands. The well-known binder, Ludovicus Bloc worked in Bruges between 1484 and his death in 1529, and other examples with the same legend as here “OB LAUDEM XPRISTI LIBRUM HUNC RECTE LIGAV. LUDOVICUS BLOC” (‘for the glory of Christ, I, Louis Bloc, have properly bound this book’), and perhaps using the same panel-stamp alongside others, are to be found in the Bibliothèque Royal Albert Ier, Brussels (MS. IV.1274), Koninklijke Bibliothek, The Hague (MS. 78 G 2), St. John’s College, Cambridge, UK. (Acc. no. MS I.39), Princeton University Library (Garrett 63), Detroit Institute of Arts (Acc. no. 63.146), Syracuse University Library, New York (MS. 7) and the Walters Art Gallery and Museum, Baltimore (MS. W.170).


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