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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.

8 comments:

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Joyce,

Those are beautiful pictures. I read lots of medieval romances and have heard of prayer books, but I never had a true picture of what they look like in my head. Thanks for sharing them.

JAD said...

Those are beautiful, Joyce. :) I actually wrote a paper on a 15th century Book of Hours when I was in college. (It's here, if you'd like to see it http://grailmaiden.crazedfanboy.com/medart/clovio.html ) I even have a little replica of the book on my shelf. A nice little investment, but it was worth it. Thanks for a fine article!

Melisende said...

Wonderful images!

Donna Hatch said...

Books were truly a work of art back then, weren't they? No wonder only the very rich could afford to a few books, let alone a full library! Thanks for sharing.

Al Penwasser said...

Great article! Were these mostly in Latin? If so, did the clergy rely on the power of pictures telling the story? Thanks-I love this stuff.

Joyce Moore said...

Kathy: Thanks for the comment. They are beautiful, aren't they. Most medieval romance readers love to see them. Regards, Joyce

Joyce Moore said...

JAD: Hi, and thanks for the comment. I like your website--beautiful colors!. How did you get a replica of a Book of Hours? Boy, would I love to have one. They're beautiful. It would be like holding the past in your hand, when life was quieter and oh, so much simpler.

Joyce Moore said...

Al: Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Earlier they would be in Latin, but they used them later, and I'm sure some were in Old French. One of my commenters said she wrote a paper on a 15th c. Book of Hours when she was in college, so some would be in English too. I'd love to own one but they're probably all in museums (sigh).