It has become commonplace to describe the Book of Hours as the “medieval bestseller” even though in the most recent publication Books of Hours Reconsidered (ed. S. Hindman and J. Marrow, Brepols and Harvey Miller, 2013), one author cautions against this language as misleading. In centers like Germany and Italy, Books of Hours are indeed relatively rare. We continue however to stress the idea of the Book of Hours as a “bestseller,” focusing on those countries where families who possessed just one book certainly owned a treasured Book of Hours – which they used to record family events, teach their children to read, carry with them to church. Examples among our newest acquisitions come from France (the very heartland of the Book of Hours), the Netherlands (the only country where the Book of Hours was translated into the Dutch, the language of the people, for all to read), and Belgium (second only to France in the production of Books of Hours). Our emphasis is on the creativity of the artists who painted these extraordinarily special and uniquely personal books.

Highlights include a refined “pre-Eyckian” manuscript painted by a group of artists probably in Antwerp and bearing all the hallmarks of the “International Style” as refined in the Netherlands and in Belgium. There is also a tiny manuscript in pristine condition by a Ghent-Bruges artist known as the Master of the David Scenes of the Grimani Breviary; an innovation of this artist is his creation of elaborate trompe l’oeil frames to house his realistic figures that take part in lively scenes. The Masters of the Zwolle Bible who painted the miniatures in the last example, written entirely in Dutch probably by copyists of the Devotio Moderna, are known for their restrained colors and the uncluttered settings of their miniatures that focus attention on the figures and their interactions.

Handed down from generation to generation, Books of Hours survive in far greater numbers and in much better condition than panel paintings from these centers. In their remarkable freshness and rich colors, these Books of Hours offer viewers today a privileged glimpse at the originality, imagination, and craftsmanship of artists of the late Middle Ages in northern Europe.