Book of hours  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The book of hours is the most common type of surviving medieval illuminated manuscript. Each manuscript book of hours is unique in one way or another, but all contain a similar collection of texts, prayers and psalms, along with appropriate illustrations, for Catholic Christian devotion. Illumination or decoration is in fact minimal in most examples, often restricted to decorated capital letters at the start of sections, but in books made for wealthy patrons may be extremely lavish, with several full-page miniatures.

Books of hours were usually written in Latin (the Latin name for them is horae), although there are some examples entirely or partially written in vernacular European languages. The English term primer is usually now reserved for those books written in English. Several hundred thousand books of hours have survived to the present day, in libraries and private collections throughout the world.

The typical medieval manuscript called a book of hours is an abbreviated form of the breviary which contained the Divine Office recited in monasteries. The books of hours were composed for the lay people who wished to incorporate elements of monasticism into their devotional life. Reciting the hours typically centered upon the recitation or singing of a number of psalms, accompanied by set prayers. A typical book of hours contained:

Most books of hours began with these basic contents, and expanded them with a variety of prayers and devotions. The Marian prayers Obsecro te ("I beseech thee") and O Intemerata ("O undefiled one") were frequently added, as were devotions for use at Mass, and meditations on the Passion of Christ.

Books of hours in archives and museums

In Europe

  • Nuremberg-Book of hours, around 1296 : Stadtsbibliothek Nuremberg, Ms. Solger 4.4°
  • Breviarium Grimani, miniatures of Alexander Bening (father of Simon): Venice (Marciana Library)
  • Breviarium Mayer van den Bergh: Antwerp, Museum Mayer van den Bergh
  • The Golfbook, around 1540, miniatures of Simon Bening: London, British Library, Add. Ms. 24098
  • Sforza Hours: London, British Library, Add. Ms. 34294
  • Bedford Hours: London, British Library, Add. Ms. 18850
  • Book of hours of Beatrijs van Assendelft: Utrecht, Museum 'Catharijneconvent'
  • Hennessy-book of hours also 'Heures de Notre Dame', on perkament, 16th c. (after 1530): Brussels, 'Royal Library of Belgium', Ms. II 158
  • Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, around 1411-1416: Musée Condé, Chantilly (France), Ms. 65
  • Les heures de Croy: Vienna, National Library, codex 1858
  • Turin-Milan Hours: Turin, Museo Civico d'Arte Antica, Ms. Inv. 47
  • Tres belles heures du Duc de Berry: Brussels, Royal Library of Belgium, 11060-11061
  • Petites heures du Duc de Berry: Paris, Royal Library, lat. 18014
  • Les très belles heures de Notre-Dame du Duc de Berry: Paris, Biblothèque nationale, nouv. acq. lat. 3093
  • Das Berliner Stundenbuch der Maria von Burgund und Kaiser Maximilians, 15th c.: Berlin, Preuss. Kulturbesitz, Kupferstichkabinett, 78 B 12
  • Book of hour of 'Joos van Wassenaar', 1480-1490: Rotthalmünster, Coll. Tenschert
  • Book of hours, around 1500: Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, Ms. 294
  • Book of hours, around 1530, miniatures of Simon Bening: Munchen, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cod. lat. 23638
  • Albrecht of Brandenburg Book of hours, around 1525, Simon Bening and others: Amsterdam, Bibliotheca Hermetica Philosophica, Ms. Astor, A 24/2
  • La Flora book of hours, before 1489, with 22 fullpages-miniatures of Simon Marmion: Napoli, Biblioteca Nazionale
  • Huth Hours, around 1480 with 24 fullpages-miniatures and 74 smaller ones of Simon Marmion: London, British Library
  • The Croy-Arenberg book of hours, Flanders, 1505-1515 (206 f°): private collection
  • Book of Hours (Milan, Biblioteca Trivulziana, Cod. 470)
  • Hours of Gian Galeazzo Visconti

In the United States

  • Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, miniatures of 'the Limburg Brothers': New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters
  • Book of hours 'Margreth of Beaujeu' Arras or Saint-Omer (France), second quarter of the 14th c.: New York, The Morgan Library & Museum, M. 754
  • Book of hours, Flanders, early 14th c.: Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, W 82
  • The also called 'Black Book of Hours': New York, The Morgan Library & Museum, Ms. 493
  • Hours of Catherine of Cleves, 15th c. (property of 'Katharina van Kleef'): New York, The Morgan Library & Museum
  • Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux, 1325-1328: New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters
  • Book of hours 'Henry VIII', with miniatures by Jean Poyer: New York, The Morgan Library & Museum

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