Book of Hours


This small Book of Hours, made for use in the diocese of Cambrai in French Flanders around 1300‒10, is especially interesting for its profusion of humorous drolleries. Humans, animals, and hybrids are featured in the margins of each page of the book. Small scenes record a variety of activities, such as cooking, playing games, climbing, fishing, making music, and dancing. Heiner Gillmeister has argued that two of these scenes depict the earliest known images of tennis being played (folios 70 and 193 rectos). There is a notable illuminated initial “D” with the Resurrection on folio 100 verso. Drolleries include a woman leading a horse drawing a harrow (12 recto); a man and woman baking (14 verso); monkeys singing (52 verso); and monkeys playing chess (186 recto). These drolleries amused the faithful during their prayers, while showing scenes that work as metaphors for the soul fighting against the vices. The original female owner seems to have been established in the diocese of Cambrai, judging from the use of the Office of the Dead. A number of signatures on the leaves at the beginning and end of the manuscript provide the book with a rich provenance. A priest in the 16th century wrote a message in code on folio 1 verso asking that the book be returned to him if lost. Members of the ducal house of Savoy owned this book in the 17th century, as evinced by the gilt armorial shield of Charles Emmanuel II (1634‒75), duke of Savoy, stamped on the covers.

Last updated: October 24, 2017