A Beautifully Painted, Especially Animated, and Complex Opening to the Hours of the Virgin


(Southern Netherlands: late 15th century). Visible portion of leaf under mat: 182 x 140 mm. (7 1/8 x 5 1/2"); frame: 340 x 290 mm. (13 1/2 x 11 1/2"). Single column, 13 lines in an elegant gothic book hand.

Dark brown and gold frame, matted in cream, glass on both sides. Line fillers in blue, pink, and gold, four one-line initials in gold on pink and blue ground, two two-line initials and a three-line initial painted blue on gold ground with colorful trefoil designs, WITH A VERY PROMINENT ARCH-TOPPED HALF-PAGE MINIATURE AS WELL AS ONE CIRCULAR AND TWO ARCH-TOPPED MINIATURES of smaller size, ALL ON A FULL BORDER OF RICHLY PAINTED GOLD supporting a variety of flower sprays and gray acanthus leaves, the opposite side with a full border of acanthus leaves, flowers, and bezants, as well as a potted flower at the bottom of the border. The white robes and wings and purple walls a little chipped, a few other chips here and there, a slight bit of rubbing to a few spots in the border, but still A FINE SPECIMEN that retains all its original appeal.

This is a memorable leaf, finely painted, intensely packed with activity, and featuring an imaginative sequence of scenes not typically encountered with the text of Matins. The Tree of Jesse (depicting the lineage of Christ) dominates the page, while smaller miniatures depicting Mary at the Loom, the Marriage of the Virgin and Joseph, and the Annunciation surround it. Taken together, they show the various stages of the Virgin's life and her journey from youth, to marriage, to pregnancy, and finally, to her ultimate role as Mother of God. The message of the miniature couldn't be made clearer than in the Tree of Jesse, where the Virgin and Child stand at the top of the tree, emblazoned in gold. The focus on the Marian storyline may provide a clue to the identity of the original owner of this book. Based especially on the presence of the Marriage of Mary and Joseph, it would seem possible that this Book of Hours was intended as a wedding present, as many often were. We may also speculate that the recipient was a young woman of childbearing age, who felt a deep connection with the Virgin and all that she symbolized. Whoever commissioned this work, it is clear that they were a patron of both taste and means. The quality of the hand and the variety of figures and subject matter in a single miniature all point to a highly accomplished and creative workshop, while the profuse use of gold indicates that this was a costly undertaking.