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Book of Hours

Book of Hours. (Use of Rome); Illuminated manuscript on parchment, in Latin. Bruges, ca. 1460-1475 Illuminated manuscript on parchment, in Latin. Bruges, ca. 1460-1475

€ 160.000
A luxurious 'Vrelant Book of Hours'
Book of Hours. Book of Hours. (Use of Rome); Illuminated manuscript on parchment, in Latin. Bruges, ca. 1460-1475. Illuminated manuscript on parchment, in Latin. Bruges, ca. 1460-1475

168x115 mm. 182 leaves. Complete. Quires generally of 8 leaves (except 1-26, 156, 182) with the major part of the full-page miniatures added on single sheets. Blanks: fol. 122 and the last one. Early pencilled foliation on the upper right corner (used here). Text block: 88x59 mm, one column, 17 lines. Ruled in red ink. Written in black ink in a regular letter bastarde. Rubrics in red. Capitals touched in yellow, one- and two-line initials in burnished gold on red and blue grounds with white tracery, panel borders on every page in designs of flowers and fruit with gold leaves and acanthus sprays, fourteen full borders and large initials, thirteen small miniatures with full borders comprising twelve seven-line miniatures and one five-line historiated initial, fourteen full-page miniatures with full borders, the miniatures in arched compartments. Contemporary Flemish blind-stamped panels, two on each cover, depicting the Annunciation beneath a gothic canopy with a border of flowers and figures of dragons, eagles, etc., skilfully inset into calf over wooden boards, the outer edges stamped with crosses. Rebacked, baroque silver clasps added, and engraved with the initials 'D.M.' and the date 1818 (one clasp partly broken). Gilt edges. Manuscript in fine fresh condition, with very wide margins. Minor scratch across part of the miniature on fol. 96, slight marks on fol. 1 offset from pilgrims' badges formerly sewn on flyleaf (two circular, one lozenge-shaped).


Fols. 1r-13r: Calendar;

fols. 14r-20r: Hours of the Holy Cross;

fols. 21r-26r: Hours of the Holy Spirit;

fols. 27r-36v: Mass of the Virgin;

fols. 37r-42v: Obsecro te; O intemerata;

fols. 43r-52r: Suffrages to different saints;

fols. 53r-123r: Hours of the Virgin, Use of Rome: Lauds (fol. 70r), Prime (fol. 81r), Terce (fol. 86r), Sext (fol. 91r), None (fol. 96r), Vespers (fol. 101r), Compline (fol. 109r);

fols. 124r-142r: Seven Penitential Psalms;

fols. 143r-181v: Office of the Dead, Use of Rome.


The subject of the fourteen full-page miniatures are as follows:

fol. 13v: The Crucifixion;

fol. 20v: The Pentecost;

fol. 26v: The Virgin and Child enthroned between two angels, one with a lute;

fol. 52v: The Annunciation in a tall gothic church;

fol. 69v: The Visitation, city and landscape beyond;

fol. 80v: The Adoration;

fol. 85v: The Annunciation to the Shepherds;

fol. 90v: The Adoration of the Magi;

fol. 95v: The Presentation in the Temple;

fol. 100v: The Massacre of the Innocents;

fol. 108v: The Flight into Egypt;

fol. 114v: The Coronation of the Virgin;

fol. 123v: David in prayer before his throne;

fol. 142v: A funeral service in a chapel.

These are the subjects of the seven-line illuminated initials (the initials on fol. 37r is on five lines):

fol. 37r: The Pieta; fol. 43r: St. John the Baptist; fol. 43v: St. Peter; fol. 44r: St. James; fol. 45r: St. Sebastian; fol. 45v: St. Christopher; fol. 46v: St. Nicholas; fol. 47r: St. Anthony; fol. 47v: St. Francis; fol. 48r: St. Anne; fol. 49r: Mary Magdalene; fol. 49v: St. Catherine; fol. 50v: St. Barbara.

Provenance: Catalogue of Western Manuscripts and Miniatures including the Bible of Justemont Abbey... which will be sold by auction by Sotheby Parke Bernet & Co., London 11 July 1978; purchased by Clifford E. King (1924-2010).

A luxurious Flemish Book of Hours, in exceptional condition: a fine example of a so-called 'Vrelant Book of Hours'.

The manuscript was likely produced in Bruges, as suggested by the style of illumination and the prominent Calendar inclusions of the major feasts of St. Donatian (14 October), the patron saint of Bruges, to whom the city's cathedral is dedicated, and St. Basil (14 June), whose relics were venerated in the church of St. Basil in Bruges, now the Chapel of the Holy Blood.

The manuscript is decorated with fourteen full-page miniatures, inserted at relevant sections of the Hours, mostly accompanying the Hours of the Virgin and based on well-established iconography.

The miniatures are especially notable for their delicately posed human figures; the sense of depth in the landscape backgrounds; the townscapes painted in blue, green, red, grey and pink; the height of the architectural compositions; and the careful execution of floral motifs and borders. The style, along with the intense, distinctive colouring, closely recall the work of one of the most successful and prolific manuscript painters of the Low Countries: Willem Vrelant, a native of Utrecht who was active in Bruges from 1454 until his death in 1481. Vrelant also worked for the Burgundian Court – and especially for Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, in 1468 and 1469 – and specialised in the production of Books of Hours. “Willem Vrelant was one of the most successful painters of manuscripts in the Low Countries. Even today we still have some hundred manuscripts decorated by him or his close associates [...] many were made for the highest circles of the Burgundian Court. Their decoration is splendid; their images clear, bold, and naturalistic and the style easy to recognize” (A. H. Van Buren, “Willem Vrelant”, p. 3). It is not easy, however, to distinguish between the work of Vrelant, the apprentices and collaborators (including Vrelant's daughters) who were active in his workshop, and his numerous followers and imitators. In the present manuscript, the major scenes tend to be placed above a polyhedral platform covered with white tiles; a similar compositional framework is found in ms KBR 9270 of the Bibliothèque Royale in Bruxelles, which contains the Salutation Angelique by Jean Miélot, painted for Philippe le Bon and attributed to Vrelant himself.

From a textual point of view, the present manuscript also bears similarities to the Hours of Mary of Burgundy, preserved in the National Library in Vienna (cod. 1857) and ascribed to Vrelant as well. Both manuscripts include a section for the Mass of the Virgin, in which the text is illustrated with a full-page miniature depicting the Virgin and Child enthroned against a cloth-of-honor and flanked by two angels, one of whom carries a lute (for a description of the Livre d'heures de Marie de Bourgogne, see B. Bousmanne, “Item a Guillaume Wyelant aussi enlumineur”, pp. 306-307).

G. Dogaer, Flemish Miniature Painting in the 15th and 16th Centuries, Amsterdam 1987; B. Bousmanne, Guillaume Wielant ou Willem Vrelant, miniaturiste à la cour de Bourgogne au XVe siècle, (exhibition catalogue), Brussels 1997; Idem, “Item a Guillaume Wyelant aussi enlumineur”. Willem Vrelant. Un aspect de l'enluminure dans le Pays Bas méridionaux sous le mécénat des ducs de Bourgougne Philippe le Bon et Charles le Téméraire, Turnhout 1997; A. H. Van Buren, “Willem Vrelant: Questions and Issues”, Revue belge d'archéologie et d'histoire de l'art, 68 (1999), pp. 3-30; Th. Kren - S. McKendrick (eds.), Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe, Los Angeles 2003; T. Delcourt - B. Bousmanne (eds.), Miniatures flamandes 1404-1482, (exhibition catalogue), Paris and Brussels 2011; S. Hindman - J. H. Marrow (eds.), Books of Hours Reconsidered, London 2013; Philobiblon, One Thousand Years of Bibliophily, no. 7.