Wednesday, April 20, 2011

During Holy Week-Collecting Book of Hours- One of A Kind, Facsimile, High Spot and Reasonably Priced

Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
St. Gregory composing a text with 3 scribes copying
Ivory Book Cover , 10th Century

During this Holy Week, I started visiting the various Book of Hours I have acquired over the years.  My small set of these precious examples of Medieval Manuscript Illumination are treasures I love to display and hope to continue acquiring for my library.  A Book of Hours is simply a prayer book used to guide the faithful in their daily prayers throughout the year.  Book of Hours were created in scriptorium of Monasteries and commissioned by the wealthy for their private use.  Between the 5th century and the 15th century, each Book of Hours was a one of a kind, hand printed and painted example of Medieval art.  While I am not religious in any way, shape or form, I believe that the illumination to be found in a Book of Hours represents Medieval art better than almost any other form. 

Collecting Book of Hours is a multi-faceted pursuit.  An original, complete Book of Hours is a priceless acquisition that is available to only the most well funded private collector or institution.  Since a complete Book of Hours is priceless, some may choose to acquire a single vellum page as a representative example of Medieval illuminated manuscript production.  Another approach is to acquire exquisitely reproduced, facsimile, limited editions of complete Book of Hours.  The approach that fits my collecting budget more appropriately is the collection of carefully designed and manufactured Book of Hours intended for wider distribution and acquisition.  While someday, I hope to acquire an exquisitely reproduced facsimile, printed on vellum with actual gold gilding, produced for the very few, I enjoy every example of Book of Hours I have the pleasure of holding in my library.  For a comprehensive introduction to Medieval book illumination there is no better source than A History of Illuminated Manuscripts, Christopher De Hamel, Phaidon Press, Limited, London, 1986 or David R. Godine, Boston, 1986 (link to first edition here, beware of book club editions from 1986, current paperback, here).

Book of Hours, Use of Geneva, c 1515
See here for detailed images
A fine example of an original Book of Hours was sold at auction at Christies on June 4, 2008.  Book of Hours, use of Geneva, in Latin, Illuminated Manuscript on Vellum, France or Switzerland, c.1515, 198 x 140mm. i + 202 leaves: 1-26, 38, 46(of 8, final two blanks cancelled), 5-268, complete.  The catalog description of the illumination and binding is detailed and fascinating, "one- and two-line initials of burnished gold on grounds and infills of pink and blue with white decoration, line-fillers of the same colours, three-line initials of blue or pink patterned staves against burnished gold grounds with trefoil leaf sprays in the infills, TWENTY-FOUR SMALL MINIATURES IN THE FULL-PAGE BORDERS OF THE CALENDAR with occupations of the month on the rectos and zodiac signs on the versos, FIFTY-FOUR LARGE MINIATURES ACCOMPANIED BY FULL-PAGE BORDERS with divided grounds with fields of liquid gold with naturalistic sprays of fruit and flowers between areas with acanthus sprays on the vellum ground, occasional birds, grotesques or beasts (some rubbing, spotting and smudging). Panelled brown morocco gilt by Rivière, silver clasps and catches (upper joint split at foot, spine rebacked at head and upper cover restored at head, lacking one clasp).  The winning bid, at auction, was $213,584 and a visit to the Christie's page provides more detail and information on provenance.

The Bedford Master, Faksimile Verlag, Luzern, 2005
A fabulous publisher of limited edition, fine press, facsimile reproductions of Medieval manuscripts is Faksimile Verlag, originally of Luzern, now headquartered in Munich.  A fine example of a Book of Hours from Faksimile Verlag is the Bedford Book of Hours, Faksimile Verlag Luzern, 2005, 578 pages, 263 x 184 mm, 1288 images, gold on every page, 1250 elaborate medallions, 38 large-format miniatures, gold leaf, brush gold and silver, historical initials.  The manuscript includes splendid scrollwork, with hundreds of tiny golden vine or acanthus leaves, colourful flowers and small animals covering the pages. The Latin text is embellished with numerous gold initials and imaginative line-fillers, while French explanations of the miniatures appear in red, blue, and gold writing at the bottom of each page.  The Bedford Hours circa, 15th century, created by the unnamed master scribe now known only as the Bedford Master, is owned by the British Library.  This is a masterpiece of facsimile publishing and one copy is available for sale for a mere, $18, 480 plus shipping!

Noah from the Bedford Book of Hours

While perhaps not as breathtaking as owning an original or a fine, limited edition facsimile, it is possible and affordable to acquire facsimile editions intended for the general book loving audience on a budget!  Perhaps the most extraordinary Book of Hours ever created was, The Trés Riches Heures of Jean, Duke of Berry, owned by Musée Condé, Chantilly, France, Translated from the French by Victoria Benedict, Introduction and Legends by Jean Longman, Honorary Curator, Library, Institut de France and Raymond Cazelles, Librarian, Musée Condé, Preface by Millard Meiss, Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton, George Braziller, New York, 1969, 139 illustrations, slipcase.  There are 73 copies currently for sale with prices ranging from $12.00 to $180.00 for a copy in fine condition.  This is a masterpiece of Medieval illumination and certainly merits a place in every library with an interest in Medieval manuscripts or simply, the greatest books of all time!  There are numerous facsimile editions available, higher priced and representing finer production standard, but for a new collector, acquiring a copy of the 1969 edition is a great starting place!
From the Trés Riches Heurs
\Braziller, 1969, image on slipcase

A page from the Trés Riches Heurs

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