A Beautifully Preserved, Complete, Vernacular Book of Hours

USE OF UTRECHT.

(Utrecht: ca. 1440-50). 150 x 105 mm. (5 7/8 x 4"). [149] leaves. One flyleaf excised before f. 1 and last two flyleaves pasted down to lower cover, but textually COMPLETE. Single column, 16 lines in a very pretty gothic textura. Contents: [blank] (f. 1); Calendar (f. 2); [blank] (f. 14); Hours of the Virgin (f. 16); Short Hours of the Holy Spirit (f. 63); Short Hours of the Cross (f. 86); Penitential Psalms and Litany (f. 95); Communion Prayers (f. 114); Office of the Dead (f. 120); Prayers attributed to Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine (f. 146).

Attractive 16th century calf over bevelled wooden boards, covers with a series of blind-ruled frames, the space between the rules tooled in gilt with columns, flowers, acorns, and leaves, center of upper cover with intricate gilt arabesque, center of lower cover with large gilt fleur-de-lys with flowers emanating from it, raised bands, apparently rebacked (and if so, very expertly), preserving most of original backstrip, compartments each with central gilt flower stamp flanked with gilt leaves, all edges gilt (corners neatly restored, lacking clasps and catch plates). Rubrics in red, many one- and two-line initials in red or blue, 25 FOUR-LINE INITIALS painted either pink or blue with white tracery, some inhabited with a flower, on burnished gold ground, or the initials in burnished gold on pink and blue ground, each initial accompanied by a painted and gilt bar along inner or outer edge of text and running the length of the text block, terminating in floral sprays, WITH FIVE FULL-PAGE MINIATURES framed in gold (four of these miniatures also with burnished gold background), EACH MINIATURE AND THE FACING PAGE WITH FULL BORDERS incorporating gilt and painted leaves, trefoils, and/or ivy connected with intricate hairline vines, the subjects of the miniatures being the Annunciation (f. 15v), Trinity Enthroned (f. 62v), Crucifixion (f. 85v), Last Judgment (f. 94v), and a Funeral Mass (f. 119v). Sewing guards visible on first and last quires made from a 13th century manuscript; faint offsetting between folios 88 and 89, possibly from a Medieval pilgrim's badge(?). See: Defoer, et. al, "The Golden Age of Dutch Manuscript Illumination," pp. 75-86. Joints cracked about an inch at head and tail, leather with minor dings and abrasions, gutter open at first and last quires, but the early binding very secure, unusually lustrous, and in excellent condition overall. Occasional light soiling to vellum, margins trimmed a little close in some places (slightly cutting into the marginal decoration on a couple pages), burnished gold on facing miniatures and initials showing slight wear, green walls of Office of the Dead miniature either flaked or faded (due to type of pigment used), other trivial imperfections, but all these faults quite minor, and the contents by and large IN LOVELY CONDITION, WITH THE MINIATURES VERY WELL PRESERVED.

This enchanting little prayer book, written entirely in a vernacular language, features five delightful miniatures, many gleaming burnished gold initials, an attractive early binding, and an excellent state of preservation. The text here is the popular Middle Dutch translation of the Book of Hours by Geert Groote (1340-84), founder of the Brethren of the Common Life. A practitioner of the "Devotio Moderna" ("Modern Devotion"), Groote believed in the importance of a strong personal connection to the divine, achieved through inner devotion, prayer, and meditation. In addition to Groote's text, this manuscript also contains seven other prayers in Dutch, including those recited for Communion. Although this manuscript has, in the past, been advertised as a product of the Masters of Zweder van Culembourg (including when it was first offered at auction by Sotheby's in 1995), we can now definitively say that it has nothing to do with that circle of illuminators. Stylistically, the present work has more in common with the so-called Masters of Otto van Moerdrecht, the name given to a variety of Dutch artists active in the 1430s and '40s, all working in a similar mode (rather than to a specific master or workshop). According to Defoer et. al, the work of these miniaturists "exhibit varied compositional formulas and bright, highly contrasting colors. . . . The small, somewhat doll-like figures appear rather wooden, but their expressive gestures give the scenes a varied and vivid character." There are also a number of stylistic and compositional elements in this manuscript that suggest a possible association with an artist formerly referred to as the Master of the Boston City of God, and now known to be Antonis uten Broec, a miniaturist active in the 1450s and '60s. Though this attribution remains speculative and further research would be needed to confirm this hypothesis, if correct, our manuscript would be a very early example of his work--probably executed before he had developed a mature, firmly recognizable style. Whoever the artist(s) responsible for the miniatures, they all show a consistent use of bright colors--mostly blue, green, and a particularly vivid orange--coupled with softer pinks and browns, and the dazzling use of heavily raised burnished gold. Thickly applied and mirror-like, the gold shines and sparkles in the light, enhancing the spiritual experience. Although the subject matter of these miniatures is fairly standard for a Book of Hours, there are two in particular that stand out for their iconography. The first is the miniature of the Crucifixion (f. 85v), with a swooning Virgin supported by John the Evangelist on the left of the composition, and a kneeling female donor figure on the right (apparently dressed in the guise of a widow). Interestingly, she is pictured alone and without the presence of a patron saint or other figure--a highly unusual composition for a Dutch manuscript of the first half of the 15th century. Other unusual features include the drape of her cloak over the frame and into the inner margin (thus bridging the spiritual and temporal realms), and the fact that, in an otherwise vernacular manuscript, she holds a scroll in Latin, which reads "O bone ihesu miserere" ("O good Jesus, have mercy"). The other miniature of note is the Last Judgement (f. 94v), showing Christ sitting in judgement on a rainbow over the Valley of Death, his feet resting on a golden orb, with the Virgin and John the Baptist in the foreground, gazing up at him in adoration. Immediately below Christ, flames emanate from a fissure in the earth--another very peculiar detail--while in the distance we see the dead rising from their graves. The Last Judgement also has the touch of a more refined artistic hand--particularly in the molding of the faces and garments, and the sculpting of the rock formations--than the other miniatures present here, suggesting that it may have been executed by a second artist. The faces of John the Baptist and Christ are especially well defined and beautifully shaded. It goes without saying that prayer books as handsomely painted and well preserved as the present example are highly desirable, and finding one in a very pleasing early binding, in a vernacular language, and complete is quite uncommon. This is also a manuscript deserving of more study, and with significant potential for further discoveries. We are indebted to Dr. James K. Marrow for his keen observations and assistance in researching this manuscript.
(ST16819)

Add to Cart Price: $120,000.00

PJP Catalog: 78.035

USE OF UTRECHT. WITH FIVE ATTRACTIVE MINIATURES A BEAUTIFUL ILLUMINATED VELLUM MANUSCRIPT BOOK OF HOURS IN DUTCH.
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