Book of Hours of Simon de Varie. Part 1


Books of hours are prayer books for the personal use of laymen, often beautifully illuminated, dating from the late-medieval period. The National Library of the Netherlands has a large collection of these works, one of the most beautiful of which is the Book of Hours of Simon de Varie. The illuminations in the manuscript are largely by artists whose identity is unknown, and who therefore are referred to by a name that is derived from their work. The Book of Hours of Simon de Varie contains illuminations by the Master of Jean Rolin II and by the Master of the Dunois Book of Hours. A small number of illuminations, however, were made by the great Jean Fouquet (circa 1420-circa 1480), who is generally considered the most important French painter of the 15th century. The Madonna with Christ in the second volume is a particular masterpiece: Fouquet has draped Mary’s veil across the head of Christ, creating an intimate atmosphere. The hand of Jesus is on the edge of the border, a trompe l’oeil that suggests depth. The manuscript has known a turbulent history. In the 17th century its owner, Philippe de Béthune (1561–1649), had the manuscript divided into three parts. The part presented here ended up in the library of Stadtholder Willen IV and his heirs and was transferred to the National Library of the Netherlands in 1816. The second part was acquired by the library in 1890 from an antiquarian bookseller in Frankfurt am Main. The third part surfaced in 1983 at an antiquarian bookseller in San Francisco; it is now in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu (Ms. 7). Until the third part was found, it was not known who commissioned the book of hours. At the beginning of the Getty volume, however, there is an image of a man in armor and a red tunic under a motto, “Vie a mon desir.” Research by François Avril has shown these words to be the key to the commissioner, “Vie a mon desir” being an anagram of Simon de Varie. De Varie was the son of a wealthy textile merchant from Bourges. His career was not brilliant compared to that of his brother Guillaume, who despite being involved in a notorious fraud scandal became minister of finance for Languedoc. The few sources that mention Simon give the impression that he shared in Guillaume’s success, nevertheless, becoming comptroller of extraordinary revenues in Languedoc. Simon de Varie died after April 1463, probably unmarried and without offspring.

Last updated: August 28, 2015