April 14, 2017

Book of Hours

This Book of Hours was created in northeastern France in the early 14th century, possibly for the marriage of Louis I of Châtillon (died 1346) and Jeanne of Hainaut, as the Châtillon de Blois arms are depicted on folios 19 recto and 81 verso, and the arms of Hainaut also appear in the borders, including in conjunction with the Châtillon arms on folio 19 recto. The manuscript is exceptional for the abundance of drolleries and lively hybrids that inhabit nearly every page. Stylistically these images have been linked to a workshop in the Artois region, possibly based in Arras, in northeast France. Although the manuscript is incomplete, lacking its calendar and likely some images, its surviving illumination provides an excellent example of the playfulness of art during this period. The first folio with miniatures and last two folios were added early in the work’s existence. It is written in textura formata (a formal Gothic script found in elaborate manuscripts of the period), with the text in black ink and rubrics in red. Three artists’ hands are distinguishable. The highest-quality images are by the first artist on folios 51 recto and 81 verso; the secondary artist is responsible for historiated initials in the Hours of the Virgin; and a third and less-skilled artist is responsible for the remaining miniatures. The main decorative elements are: eight miniatures (two full-page, added early) and five extant historiated initials set within heavy gold architectural frames (to a depth of 10‒13 lines); decorated illuminated initials at secondary text divisions (two lines); borders around text and line fillers found intermittently throughout, with line fillers containing hybrids, dragons, fish, animals, and foliage.

Gratian’s “Decretum”

This deluxe version of Gratian’s Decretum was created circa 1280‒90, most likely in Hainaut (in present-day Belgium). The lively decoration of the manuscript indicates a marked taste for narrative, and there are 37 historiated initials. The gloss work was completed by Bartholomew of Brescia. At first examination, Paris would seem to be the most likely place of origin, given that it was the leading center for the study of canon law. However, this particular manuscript exhibits scribal features that suggest its place of origin as being the Cistercian abbey of Cambron in Hainaut. Furthermore, Abbot Baudouin de Bousso, whose tenure at the abbey was from 1283 to 1293, was schooled in theology at the University of Paris, and he would eventually endorse the production of many fine manuscripts while at Cambron. In fact, the catalyst for this endeavor seems to have been the Beaupré Antiphonary (W.759‒761), also in the collections of the Walters Art Museum, which was created at Cambron during the 1280s. Stylistic features of this edition of Gratian’s Decretum (W.133) seem to have connections with the Beaupré Antiphonary. For example, Cistercian monks are shown in three extant illuminations throughout three of the antiphonary volumes; these monks are pictured in brown habits similar to the type worn by clerics in the Decretum. The reliance upon Cistercian precedents for textual and design features associates the work with the Cistercian abbey at Cambron. However, more remains to be confirmed by further inspection of the output of the scriptorium at Cambron. Little is known about Gratian, an Italian Benedictine active in the 12th century, who made the first systematic compilation of canon law, which we know as the Decretum. The main decorative elements in this version are 37 historiated initials, including two inhabited initials, which are on folios 11 recto and 130 recto; flourished initials for secondary text divisions in red and blue ink; smaller initials for tertiary text divisions in blue and red ink; marginal drolleries throughout; rubrics in red; and text in dark-brown ink.

The Pilgrimage of Human Life

The allegorical text of Le pèlerinage de la vie humaine (The pilgrimage of human life) written in vernacular verse was inspired by the 13th-century French poem Roman de la Rose by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun. Composed circa 1330‒32 by Guillaume de Digulleville, with a second recension in 1355, this text represents the earlier of the two versions. Produced in northeast France in 1370, this copy from the Walters Art Museum (W.141) contains a frontispiece miniature with a portrait of the author, as well as 83 tinted grisaille illustrations. These images are based on models consistent with contemporary thematic choices and contain abundant anecdotal detail, lending character to the text. The Institute for Textual Research and History, at the National Center for Scientific Research in France has been gathering all reproductions of Digulleville’s manuscripts. The version shown here is one of the few copies outside of France. The text consists of a prologue and four books. It is written in brown ink, with rubrics in red, in littera cursiva formata script, and in two columns to the page, often with borders between them. There are painted capitals at text divisions and an illuminated capital on the frontispiece. The names of speakers are generally centered, sometimes above the illustrations. There is no original punctuation. The illustrations are of average quality, especially toward the end, and are contained in yellow frames with vine leaves. Instructions to artists appear as text next to images (for example, on folio 8 recto), as letters inside images, and as phrases in the lower-left margins (for example on folio 45 recto).

Book of Hours of Daniel Rym

This richly illuminated Book of Hours was created circa 1420‒30 for Elizabeth van Munte and her husband Daniel Rym. The couple is represented throughout the manuscript in a number of ways. Rym’s heraldic shield is held by an angel on folio 42 recto, while van Munte’s heraldry is held by a dragon on folio 18 recto. Both are also depicted in donor portraits, with van Munte kneeling on folio 62 recto and Daniel Rym kneeling before his namesake, Saint Daniel, on folio 168 verso. Made for personal use, this exquisite Book of Hours begins each hour with a full-page miniature. Gold is widely used in the illumination, and drolleries throughout the book depict playful figures and hybrids engaging in a variety of activities, such as reading texts, kneeling in devotion, playing with or climbing the foliate fillet of the initials, or emerging from large flowers. Especially touching is a sweet couple embracing on the folio facing the Deposition and the Veronica (folio 118 recto). This devotional work is by the Master of Guillebert de Mets, an illuminator working in the Parisian style in Flanders in about 1410‒45, whose moniker derives from illuminations by him in a manuscript signed by a scribe called Guillebert de Mets. The layout of his pages closely links the text, miniatures, and border decorations in a distinctive way. The text is written in black and brown ink in a textura script, with rubrics in red. Instructions to the rubricator are often in the side margins. Gold initials mark text divisions. The book has 13 extant full-page miniatures at the beginnings of each hour.

The Mirror of the World

This manuscript, which is dated in a colophon to 1489, is one of the three known 15th-century copies of a rare vernacular cosmography originally composed in verse under the title Image du Monde (The mirror of the world) in the dialect of Lorraine circa 1245‒46. The manuscript provides descriptions of the seven liberal arts, along with astronomical theories, especially about the earth, the creatures that inhabit it, and its movements within the universe. Each one of the liberal arts is illustrated with a small miniature in grisaille, and extraordinary geometric astronomical diagrams recur throughout the book. The importance of this work (Walters Art Museum W.199) is both textual and pictorial. Illuminated by followers of Willem (also called Guillaume) Vrelant, who was active in Bruges in 1454‒81, the manuscript reveals an affinity of format and content with a 1464 copy of the Image du Monde made in Bruges (London, British Library, Royal 19 A.IX). The text of the work, by Gossouin (or Gauthier) of Metz, originally was commissioned by John, duke of Berry and Auvergne, and appears here in a Gothic littera batarda script. The epilogue refers to “Iehan clerc librarien” in Bruges, who is credited with organizing this edition. The manuscript also includes prayers for physical and spiritual benefits for the readers or auditors. The rubrics are in red and the text is in dark-brown ink with major divisions marked by red or blue initial capitals. The work has one full-page illumination, 11 smaller figural miniatures in grisaille, and 27 polychrome scientific diagrams.

The Treasury of Wisdom. Creation to 138 AD

This richly decorated manuscript of Trésor de sapience (The treasury of wisdom) is a history of the world from the Creation up to 138 AD. It was illuminated by associates of Loyset Liédet and Willem (also called Guillaume) Vrelant, and was completed, probably in Bruges, circa 1470‒80. The book itself is a fine example of the secular books that were in demand by aristocratic patrons in the southern Netherlands during the third quarter of the 15th century. Along with an expansive decoration program, the history also features important heraldic evidence. The most current armorial shield, painted within an abraded surrounding area, is that of Adolph of Burgundy, seigneur of Beveren, Veere, and Vlissingen (died 1540). He was a member of the Order of the Golden Fleece as of 1516, following his father Philip of Burgundy, and his grandfather Anthony of Burgundy (the "Grand Bâtard de Bourgogne," illegitimate son of Philip the Good). The decoration, and its organization throughout the text, embodies principles of hierarchical design and artistic collaboration typical of expansive pictorial programs in this type of secular text. Of particular note are the six large miniatures, one before each major textual division of the chronicle, each of which spans two columns of text. These illustrations are quite imaginative, stylistically varied, and beautiful. The illustrations place a visual emphasis on the Trinity, as evinced by the frontispiece, which features a creation cycle in six medallions. This manuscript recalls Augustinian tenets on Trinitarianism linked with the six days of creation, the six ages of man, and the six ages of the world. It contains a mixture of biblical and secular themes, including the history of Thebes, Troy, and Britain; the third age of the world; the history of Rome from Romulus and Remus to the defeat of the Gauls and the Roman emperors through Hadrian (died 138 AD); the Italian kings since Aeneas; and Alexander the Great and rulers that preceded him. The work is written in Burgundian littera batarda script by several different hands.

Stein Quadriptych

The Stein Quadriptych was likely created in Bruges in about 1525‒30, possibly for Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg, and it has been attributed to Simon Bening and associates. This collection of 64 miniatures on parchment is mounted on paper and fixed to four panels, each in sets of 16 miniatures per panel. Each miniature is 6.8 by 5.2 centimeters. The earliest known owner of the collection, until 1886, was Charles Stein, and the ensemble of miniatures was first cited in scholarly literature as the Stein Quadriptych. The miniatures appear to have been dismantled at some point and then reassembled in the four panels held in 19th-century gilt frames. No texts have been found on the backs of these miniatures by the conservation department of the Walters Art Museum. However, because it was normal practice for illuminated folios to be inserted into South Netherlandish prayer books without accompanying text on the back, the lack of textual evidence does not rule out the possibility that these miniatures were once part of a prayer book. Based on formal visual analysis and the use of color, however, these 64 miniatures appear to have been meant to be viewed as an ensemble. The recitation of prayers from a book or from memory may have been intended while the suppliant viewed the sequence in private devotion.

Thirty-Six-Line Bamberg Bible

None of the three editions of the Latin Bible printed before 1462 contains information about the place of printing, the printer, or the date of publication. The relative chronology of the oldest Bible editions thus relies on textual interdependencies and the typographical material used. The so-called “thirty-six-line Bible,” also known as B36, was based on a copy of the Gutenberg Bible (known as B42), as can be concluded from a typesetting error in the Stuttgart copy of the B36, where one page of the B42 was accidentally skipped. In contrast to Gutenberg, the printer set the text more generously, reducing the number of lines per column from 42 to 36. This made the edition considerably more voluminous—with 1,764 printed pages, it comprises almost 500 more pages than the Gutenberg Bible. As a consequence, it was often divided into three volumes. The Munich copy presented here is incomplete; it contains only the second volume beginning with the Books of Chronicles (Paralipomena) and ending with the Lamentations of Jeremiah. In addition, numerous fragments and the rare printed instructions for the rubricator are preserved in the Bavarian State Library. The edition was printed using a modified form of the types employed by Johann Gutenberg in his first years as a printer to produce calendars and editions of the grammar by Donatus. Later, Gutenberg passed the types on to one of his workmen. In 1461, Albrecht Pfister, a printer working in Bamberg, used this so-called Urtype (original type) to print the first German-language edition of a collection of fables, the Edelstein of Ulrich Boner. Since Pfister worked for the bishop of Bamberg, Georg I of Schaumberg, and several copies of the B36 originally belonged to monasteries in this diocese, it seems likely that this edition was printed in Bamberg under a commission of the bishop. The copy originally belonged to the Swabian Benedictine monastery of Fultenbach and came to Munich in 1915 through the Kreis- und Studienbibliothek of Dillingen. It bears a contemporary binding with blind-tooled decoration ascribed to a bookbindery in Bamberg. The Stuttgart copy of the B36 was bound in the same workshop and lacks the middle part of the Bible.

Paupers' Bible

Having already developed a considerable manuscript tradition from the 13th century, the so-called Biblia pauperum (Paupers’ Bible) attained its most prolific level of distribution in the second half of the 15th century through block book and incunable editions. Particularly widespread was the 40-leaf Latin version of the Biblia pauperum, which was published in no fewer than 11 block book editions. The arrangement of the text and the sequence of illustrations in the Latin version were adopted by both of the German-language block book editions, which, however, used somewhat simpler woodcuts. The first block book edition in German was co-produced in 1470 in the city of Nördlingen by the painter Friedrich Walther and the carpenter Hans Hurning, as is indicated by a note at the end of the book accompanied by two coats of arms and the date. As early as a year later, the German version was copied by Hans Sporer, a calligrapher and block cutter of Nuremberg, who simplified the illustrations by omitting the hatching and replacing the background landscapes with plain horizontal lines. Imitating the earlier version, Sporer included two coats of arms and the date 1471 in the last plate. The German Biblia pauperum block book presented here certainly does not belong to the first issue produced by Sporer, as this was printed from wooden blocks on which two plates were placed side by side (1–40, 2–39, and so forth). Since the leaves could only be printed on one side, they had to be folded in the middle and arranged in a manner to ensure that the illustrations in the first half of the book were on the left side (verso), while those in the second half were on the right side (recto). At a later stage, Sporer seems to have split the blocks in the middle and begun producing prints with a simple printing press, which allowed printing on both the recto and verso of a leaf, as is the case in the copy shown. Besides the Biblia pauperum, Sporer produced three other block book titles in Nuremberg up to 1474, before he moved to Bamberg and began printing using movable types in 1487.


As the large number of manuscripts related to the art of palm reading indicates, this subject enjoyed a certain popularity in late medieval times. This German Chiromantia, the authorship of which remains a subject of debate, was, however, principally available in the form of block book editions. Block books were produced by cutting the text and the illustrations into the same wooden block, thus making it possible to print both in a single operation. The block book edition of the Chiromantia shown here contains an introduction and 44 plates depicting hands. The plates are arranged so that each female hand on the left (verso) corresponds with a male hand on the right-hand side (recto). The lines and other marks on the hands are explained in short German captions which have been integrated into the corresponding illustration. The technique of woodcut printing is particularly suited to reproducing such images. An unusual feature of this edition is the paper covers that have been ornamented using woodcuts designed to imitate the style of Gothic leather book bindings. The wooden blocks from which the prints were made could be stored over long periods of time and reproduced according to demand. Often, however, they were corrected or changed between printings, and later prints therefore may contain variations. This is the case in the copy shown, which represents the last of the four known stages in the history of the block book edition of this work. While the first two issues of the Chiromantia were published without quire numbers and without information about the producer, typographical signatures and a colophon giving the name Jörg Schapf, a block cutter and bookbinder of Augsburg, were added to the woodcuts at a later stage. Whether Schapf, who is known to have lived in Augsburg between 1478 and 1517, also produced the first two issues or whether he had purchased the wooden blocks from another printer remains unclear. Some scholars have ascribed authorship of the work to Johannes Hartlieb (1410–68), court physician to Duke Albrecht III of Bavaria, who was an authority on witchcraft and palm reading.