(Paris: ca. 1415-20). 170 x 120 mm. (6 3/4 x 4 3/4"). 195 leaves. Single column, 14 lines, in a gothic book hand (first and last quires written in a later batarde hand). Lacking one leaf between ff. 133-34, possibly containing a miniature, otherwise complete. Contents: Prayers written in a later hand (f. 1r); Calendar (f. 9r); Gospel Lessons (f. 21r); Obsecro Te & O Intemerata (f. 25v); Hours of the Virgin (f. 33r); Prayers in Latin (f. 95r); Penitential Psalms & Litany (f. 97r); Hours of the Cross (f. 116r); Hours of the Holy Spirit (f. 123r); Doulce Dame (f. 128v); Seven Requests (f. 134r); Prayer to the Holy Cross (f. 136r); Office of the Dead (f. 136v); Seven Verses of St. Bernard (f. 186r); Office of St. Katherine and additional prayer (f. 188r).
Early 16th century(?) plain brown calf over pasteboards, raised bands. Rubrics in red, "KL" in burnished gold on pink and blue ground with white tracery and hairline vine and gilt ivy marginal extensions, blue and pink line-fillers with white tracery and gold bezants, numerous one- and two-line initials in burnished gold on pink and blue ground with white tracery, the two-line initials with hairline vine and gilt ivy marginal extensions, several three-line initials in gold on blue ground with white tracery, 15 three-line initials painted blue with white tracery on gold ground, filled with colorful vines, and accompanied by gold and blue baguettes on three sides with hairline vines and gilt leaves, and SIX LARGE MINIATURES with ornamental gold and blue baguettes on three sides, and FULL BORDERS of dense hairline vines, gilt leaves, and colorful flowers, and colorful feather-like ornaments attached to the baguettes. The subjects of the miniatures are as follows: Annunciation (f. 33r); David in Prayer (f. 97r); Crucifixion (f. 116r); Pentecost (f. 123r); Virgin and Child (f.128v); Funeral scene (f. 136v). With 16th and 17th century notes in French endleaves, flyleaves, and first and last text leaf (see below). ◆Some wear to binding (as expected), a couple quires coming forward (but the structure still quite sound overall); infrequent and minor losses to burnished gold on initials and borders, lower half of David's face and small portion of adjacent background faintly discolored (as if by moisture) (f. 97), superficial rubbing to the Virgin's robe (f. 33), other minor imperfections, but in excellent condition overall, the miniatures generally well preserved--the four not mentioned here in remarkably fine condition--the vellum clean, and the paint rich.
With intriguing early additions and notations that tie it to Western France, this is a lovely Book of Hours attributed to the celebrated Guise Master (named for his miniatures in a Book of Hours made for the Duke of Guise). Also sometimes referred to as the Master of Guy de Laval (for the exquisite prayer book he created for the Duke of that name), the Guise Master (fl. 1410-30), has an aesthetic in line with the famous Boucicaut Master and his circle, with whom he may have trained or worked in Paris during the first two decades of the 15th century. The miniatures here show many of the stylistic characteristics the Guise Master was known to employ, including delicately drawn faces and hands, bulbous noses on older men, and a preference for backdrops consisting of diapered patterns or rinceaux ground. The paintings are notably skillful in terms of craftsmanship and attention to detail, with a particularly adept use of color. The agility seen in the application of paint is impressive, as the delicacy in the faces and hands is memorable. The Guise Master's skills are especially appreciable in the Crucifixion miniature, which features a rinceaux backdrop and a simple composition with the Virgin and St. John standing on either side of the crucified Christ. The figures are beautifully rendered, and their expressions communicate the gravity of the scene; the body of Christ is particularly well done, with subtle shading delineating his ribs and collarbone as he is stretched, naked, on the cross. The present manuscript shares a number of stylistic and compositional similarities with another Book of Hours attributed to the Guise Master, which now resides at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in the Hague (MS 135 J 9). Our miniature of David in Prayer, for example, shows a nearly identical composition to that in the Hague manuscript, featuring David on one knee, gazing up at the visage of God emanating golden rays from the upper left corner. David is situated between two craggy outcroppings, each of which supports a tree whose boughs are highlighted with gold dots. Similarly, the main components of the funeral miniatures in these two manuscripts are the same: two tonsured clergymen stand close together and sing from an open book; nearby are two mourners with black cloaks, their faces barely--if at all--visible; and in the center of the scene is a casket draped in a long blue cloth with a red cross, surrounded by four tall candles. Although the Guise Master often collaborated with other Parisian artists, that seems not to be the case here: all six miniatures appear to be the work of the Master alone, thus adding considerably to our knowledge of his oeuvre. Although he was primarily based in Paris, the Guise Master also embarked on a period of itinerancy to Western France at some point in his career. Whether this period coincided with the creation of the present manuscript is uncertain, but the added prayers in the first quire, probably copied around 1500, certainly show, at the very least, an early association with Western France. The saints venerated on these pages include St. Radegonde, who founded the Abbey of the Holy Cross at Poitiers; St. Avertin, a rarely encountered saint who was particularly honored in Touraine; and St. Neomadia, who was honored in Poitou, especially in the small town of Lésigny (Vienne), where a pilgrimage took place in her honor. Notes on the endleaves show records of early owners, including a daughter's birth in a 16 century hand ("Le xixe jour d'apvril l'an mil V c. quarante et ung, une heure apres middy . . . Charlote ma fille . . .") and an inscription noting the date of a lunar eclipse in a 17th(?) century hand. While Books of Hours from the latter part of the 1400s appear with some regularity on the market, it is becoming more difficult to obtain Books of Hours from the early part of the 15th century. The present manuscript seems to have remained in private hands until very recently, and provides an excellent opportunity for further study. (ST19379)