Saturday, 8 September 2018

Leaves from a 14th-Century Picard(?) Book of Hours

This historiated initial is on a leaf now at The Met in New York. It comes from a manuscript several of whose leaves have appeared in dealer and auction catalogues from about 1930 to 2001.

The earliest appearance of any leaves was in Gilhofer & Ranschburg, Luzern, Lager-Katalog XIX, Einzel-Miniaturen des XIII. bis XV. Jahrhunderts ... [undated, but probably 1929 or 1930]

The leaves that I am aware of in auction and dealer catalogues are:
  • Calendar. 12 leaves. Sotheby's, 2001, 6 December lot 15 (ills.):
  • Visitation. Gilhofer & Ranschburg, no. 11.
  • Nativity. Sotheby's, 8 December 1981, lot 23[a].
  • Annunciation to the Shepherds. Gilhofer & Ranschburg, no. 13 (ill.); Sotheby's, 17 December 1991, lot 20 (ill.).
  • Presentation in the Temple. Gilhofer & Ranschburg, no. 12 (ill.); Sotheby's 5 July 1965, lot 181 (ill); bought by R.O. Lehman.
  • Massacre of the Innocents. Gilhofer & Ranschburg, no. 14 (ill.).
  • Crucifixion. Julius Hess, sold in 1939 to the Metropolitan Museum, New York, inv. no. 39.81.4.
  • Funeral Service. Sotheby's, 8 December 1981, lot 23[b] (ill.).
  • Virgin and Child. Sotheby's, 8 December 1981, lot 23[c].
Apparently not previously realised, the manuscript was described a few years before the Gilhofer & Ranschburg catalogue, in H.O. Vaubel, Die Miniaturenhandschriften der Giessener Universitätsbibliothek und der Gräfl. Solmsischen Bibliothek zu Laubach (Giessen, 1926) [online PDF here], as no. V within the Schloss Laubach collection.

This catalogue not only provides a fairly detailed description, but also two extra reproductions, of John on Patmos and the Nativity:

From the description we learn that it was a bound volume of 174 leaves including flyleaves, 22×17cm, with calendar scenes, 2 miniatures, and 14 historiated initials; the contents were as follows:
  1. (fol. 4) Calendar. Occupations of the Months and Zodiac signs
  2. (fol. 13) Gospel extracts. St John on Patmos
  3. (fol. 24) [Lauds] Visitation
  4. (fol. 32) [Prime] Nativity
  5. (fol. 36) [Terce] Annunciation to the Shepherds
  6. (fol. 39) [Sext] Adoration of the Magi
  7. (fol. 42) None. Massacre of the Innocents
  8. (fol. 45) [Vespers] Flight into Egypt
  9. (fol. 50) Compline. Presentation in the Temple
  10. (fol. 53) Initial "D". Christ in Majesty
  11. (fol. 66) [Hours of the Cross] Crucifixion
  12. (fol. 71) [Hours of the Spirit] Pentecost
  13. (fol. 75) Office of the Dead. Funeral Service
  14. (fol. 121) Joys of the Virgin, in French. The Virgin and Child
  15. (fol. 125) Initial "B". Christ enthroned
  16. (fol. 130) Initial "D". The Virgin and Child
  17. (fol. 159) Miniature. The Virgin and Child
The catalogue also records three loose miniatures, but does not tell us what texts they accompany: one of the Gnadenstuhl Trinity, and two of the Virgin and Child; in one of the latter she holds a golden apple, and in the other she holds a banner with the words "Orate pro me mater dei memento mei". Perhaps one of the Virgin and Child images introduced Matins in the Hours of the Virgin and the other introduced a prayer such as the "Obsecro te", but it is very unusual that there were also two other initials and a miniature all depicting the Virgin and Child. Likewise, there seem to have been three images of Christ in Majesty.

We can only guess at the texts introduced by some of the other initials. The "D" with a Christ in Majest on fol. 53 might have been the prayer "Doulce dieu doulce pere saint Trinite ..." or "Domine Ihesu Christe qui septem verba die ultimo vite ...", and the Virgin and Child in a "D" on fol. 130 might have been "Doulce dame de misericorde mere de pite ..." or "Doulce dame saincte Marie ...". The leaves will doubtless reappear in due course and answer these questions.

As for the provenance, the calendar has an entry for every day, with relatively few red letter days, but they include St Quentin, of Amiens, and three feasts of St Eligius, bishop of Noyon and Tournai (who translated the relics of St Quentin in 641), which suggests an origin in Picardy.

The 1926 description tells us that fols. 1-3 and 171-174 were flyleaves, with an inscription "Bibliothec Arnsburg" on the first, indicating previous ownership by the Cistercian abbey at Arnsburg (secularised in 1802/3), just 5 miles south-west of Schloss Laubach, which housed the manuscript in 1926.

It may be that the owner of the manuscript and/or a dealer became aware of the value of the manuscript as a result of the 1926 catalogue, resulting in its sale and dismemberment within the next few years.

In the hope that readers may recognise text leaves from the volume, here is the verso of The Met leaf, which indicates what they look like:
[Link to large version]

Edit 9 Sept 2018
Looking through my harddrive images I found b&w images of the leaves sold at Sotheby's in 1981, so I have inserted the images above. From these we can see that the prayer in French described by the Sotheby's catalogue as "the Joys of the Virgin" is not the normal Quinze Joies.

Edit, 27 April 2021
I ahve realised that two leaves were offered in Gilhofer & Ranschburg, Catalogue 128 [1929], nos. 270 ("Anna and Maris in a mountainous landscape", i.e. The Visitation), 271 ("The Announcement to the Shepherds", pl. XVIII), and 284 ("The Presentation of the Child")


  1. Thanks very much as always. Thanks especially for the image of the verso of The Met leaf. Knowing that other leaves from the manuscript are likely to have 16 lines of text per page and may be comparatively plan will be helpful in locating other leaves from this manuscript.

    1. Features that may help us recognise other leaves are:
      -- the unusually wide upper margin
      -- the use of two sizes of script
      -- the use of French for rubrics (in this case, "oroison")



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