Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Illuminated Book of Hours
During the Middle Ages, devotional books were known by many names: psalters, breviaries, and prayer books. They contained various texts, such as a Calendar (of Christian Feast Days), excerpts from the four Gospels, Psalms, Office for the Dead, and Hours of the Cross. Initially used by monks and nuns, heavier volumes were later condensed for the laity, and gradually became popular with medieval women.
The heavily illuminated books, known as Book of Hours, sometimes had jeweled covers and were personalized for the owner, such as inserting the owner’s name in a prayer. Plainer books, however, with little or no decoration, were carried by commoners, and sometimes even by servants.
Ofttimes husbands gave a richly illuminated Book of Hours to his wife on their wedding day.
Today, these lavish images give us an important record of life in the 14th and 15th centuries, as the pictures show clothing styles, leisure activities, and the cycle of life in the monthly Calendar scenes.
Today, numerous examples of these decorated manuscripts can be found in museums, libraries, and in private collections. To immerse yourself in the beauty of the Middle Ages, go to Wikimedia Commons and type in Book of Hours to view some of these beautiful images.