Book of Hours (Use of Besançon)
Exceptionally large and very handsome, with wide clean margins, every page in this Book of Hours sparkles with gold. Illuminated in Besançon in Eastern France by an anonymous artist, whose work is known in about ten Books of Hours, this newly identified example of his work is one of the most lavish manuscripts from his workshop. The miniatures are attractive and very well-executed, as are the accompanying borders. Once in the library of Robert Hoe, this survives in almost pristine condition.
iii (modern parchment)+ 189 + iii (modern parchment), modern foliation in pencil top outer corner recto, 1-187, leaving the first two blank leaves unnumbered, complete (collation i3 [1, 2, unnumbered] ii6 [beginning f. 2] iii6 iv-xiv8 xv8+1 [through f. 110v] xvi8 xvii4 xviii-xxiv8 xxv9 [structure uncertain, likely 8+1], horizontal catchwords, no signatures, ruled in red ink (justification 104 x 68-69 mm.), written in a gothic bookhand in fourteen long lines, calendar copied in alternate lines of red and blue, with major feasts written in gold, majuscules touched with pale yellow, red rubrics, red and blue line fillers with gold balls, 1-line gold initials infilled with red or blue on contrasting grounds, 2-line gold initials and ‘KL’-mongrams infilled and on grounds of red and blue, 3-line alternately red and blue initials on gold grounds, infilled with vine scrolls, PANEL BORDERS ON EVERY PAGE of black ink sprays ending with gold ivy leaves and balls with realistic flowers and leaves and acanthus sprays, FOUR FULL BORDERS (ff. 170, 175, 176v, 181v) in the same style, but more elaborate, SIXTEEN LARGE MINIATURES above three lines of text in arch-top frames (described below), in inventive U-shaped frames and with ELABORATE FULL OUTER BORDERS with flowers, acanthus, birds, vases, and grotesques, in extremely fine, almost pristine condition, ff. 44 and 95v, slight bleed through from the miniature on the reverse, very tiny stain bottom edge, ff. 62-72. Bound in modern brown morocco, lavishly tooled in blind with semis of fleurs de lys and shells at the sides by Lortic Fils (signed inside front cover), spine with five raised bands, gilt edges, turn ins tooled in gold, splitting top joint and with slight wear to spine, but overall excellent condition, custom leather and cloth slip case with insert. Dimensions 226 x 160 mm.
1. Liturgical evidence clearly shows that this Book of Hours was made for use in the diocese of Besançon, as shown by the Use of the Hours of the Virgin, the Office of the Dead, and by the numerous saints linked to Besançon included in the Litany, among them, Ferreolus and Ferrutio, patrons of Besançon, Agapitus, some of whose relics are in Besançon, Antidius, bishop of Besançon, St. Isidore, bishop of Besnancon, and St. Prothadius of Besançon. The style of the illumination as well can be linked to an artist active in Besançon and allows us to date this manuscript c. 1460 (we thank Elliot Adam for this attribution). The lavishness of this manuscript certainly suggests this was a commission made for an important person, perhaps a man since none of the prayers are in the female voice, and possibly a high-ranking member of the clergy such as a bishop (a supposition supported by the unidentified ecclesiastical arms added on f. 1).
Unidentified coat of arms of a bishop within laurel branches, f. 1 (d’azur au chevron d’or en pointe un coquille de même), with a mitre and crozier above. This coat of arms may be the same as those in New York, Morgan Library, MS M.28, a Book of Hours, use of Besançon from the 1470s, by an anonymous Besançon artist and an artist known as the Master of Charles de Neufchâtel, although the charge in the Morgan manuscript has been erased.
2. Belonged to the illustrious book collector, Robert Hoe III (1839-1909; his ex libris, gilt and leather, glued front flyleaf, f. i); Hoe catalogue, Shipman, 1909, pp. 28-29. A founder and first President of the Grolier Club, Hoe was “infected by book collecting,” and assembled an extensive collection of printed books (including a Gutenberg Bible on vellum; $50,000, then the highest price ever paid for a book), and more than 250 manuscripts, including 80 illuminated Books of Hours. The sale catalogue remarks that almost all his manuscripts were in immaculate condition, as our Horae still are.
The manuscript was bound in Paris by Marcellin Lortic (1852-1928) from the famous French family of bookbinders, likely for Robert Hoe III.
3. Hoe sale, Anderson, New York, January 8, 1912, vol. 2, p. 382, lot 2462 to Mr. Bill Homan.
4. Belonged to Louise G. Bralower (d. 1997) by inheritance from Homan.
5. Donated in December 1981 by Louise G. Bralower, a Salem College graduate, class of 1942, to the library at Salem College and Academy in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; deaccessioned 2021.
f. 1, [preceded by two blank, unnumbered leaves], Ecclesiastical coat of arms (see Provenance, above); [f. 1v, blank];
ff. 2-13v, Calendar in French with entries copied alternately in red and blue, and with major feasts days in gold; very close to the composite calendar discussed in CHD (Online resources). This calendar, which perhaps originated in Paris, was also used in manuscripts copied outside the capital;
ff. 14- 21v, Gospel pericopes, John, f. 16, Luke, f. 18, Matthew, f. 20, Mark;
ff. 22-101v, Hours of the Virgin, use of Besançon; Matins, f. 44v, Lauds, f. 58v, Prime, f. 65v, Terce, f. 72, Sext, f. 78v, None, f. 85, Vespers, f. 95, Compline;
ff. 102-106v, Hours of the Cross;
ff. 107-110v, Hours of the Holy Spirit;
ff. 111-132, Penitential Psalms, with Litany beginning on f. 124 including Agapitus, Ferreolus, Ferrutio, Germanus, Antidius, Mamas, Gangulf, Desideratus, Gemini (the Holy Triplets of Langres), Benignus, Maimbod among the martyrs, and Desideratus, Nicetius, Donatus, Isidore, Prothadius, Walbert, Deicolous, Ursicinus, and Ermenfrid among the confessors (the litany seems quite similar to the litany as described in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Don. e. 201, Book of Hours, also Use of Besançon);
ff. 132v-170, Office of the Dead, use of Besançon (Ottosen, 1993, pp. 127-128);
ff. 170-175, Obsecro te (masculine forms);
ff. 175-176v, O intemerata (masculine forms);
ff. 176v-181v, The Fifteen Joys of the Virgin, in French (“Doulce dame de misericorde …”);
ff. 181v-185, The Seven Requests, in French (“Quiconques vueut estre bien …, Doulx dieu doul pere …”); [ff. 185v-187v, blank but ruled].
Sixteen large miniatures in arch-top frames, with full borders; subjects as follows:
f. 14, St. John with his eagle;
f. 16, St. Luke with his ox;
f. 18, St. Matthew with the angel;
f. 20, St. Mark with his lion;
f. 22, Annunciation;
f. 44v, Visitation;
f. 58v, Nativity;
f. 65v, Annunciation to the Shepherds;
f. 72, Circumcision;
f. 78v, Adoration of the Magi;
f. 85, Flight into Egypt;
f. 95, Coronation of the Virgin;
f. 102, Crucifixion;
f. 107, Pentecost;
f. 111, King David in Prayer;
f. 132v, Funeral Service.
Paris was a leading city in the production of illuminated manuscripts throughout the Middle Ages. But historical circumstances, including the plague, the fall of the city to the English in 1420, and the Burgundian-Armagnac feud (1407-1435), led to a rise in manuscript production in provincial centers in the fifteenth century. The Book of Hours described here is an example of a very high-quality manuscript made by skilled artists working outside of Paris, in this case in Franche-Comté.
The very attractive and highly decorative illumination of our manuscript places it among a group of manuscript identified and discussed by François Avril as produced in Besançon in the atelier of an illuminator who was active c. 1450-1470; the work of this yet unnamed master is known in about ten Books of Hours (Avril and Reynaud, 1993, p. 197, no. 109). Our manuscript is a new addition to this group. The style in our manuscript is extremely appealing and somewhat idiosyncratic: figures have tilted-up cheery faces with puffy cheeks and hooded eyes. The palette features soft pink, green, and blue, evidence of the influence of Flemish illumination in this region of France, offset with touches of vivid red and yellow. The borders are extremely well executed and enlivened with generous use of gold, and occasional grotesques, vases, and birds. This artist was influenced by the work of an older artist from Burgundy, active in Besançon from the second quarter of the century, whose work can be seen in a number of manuscripts including New York, The Morgan Library and Museum, MS M.293; the composition in the Visitation in these two manuscripts is strikingly similar (fig. 1).
Within our manuscript, there are stylistic differences observable, perhaps suggesting the participation of two artists from this atelier. The Evangelist portraits, the Nativity, Adoration of the Magi, Coronation of the Virgin, Crucifixion, and Pentecost, and are set within rather simple rooms or landscapes against very attractive tessellated backgrounds of red, blue, and gold. The figures are elegant, but not securely anchored in space. These miniatures are close in style to the earlier manuscripts attributed to our master, datable to 1450s, including for example, Chalons-en-Champagne, BM, MS 333, and the Book of Hours, formerly Les Enluminures, BOH 107 (fig. 2). The remaining miniatures in our manuscript are set within much more detailed interiors and dramatic landscapes, with more rounded and solid figures with real weight; these can be linked to our artist’s more mature style, datable to the 1460s, including BnF, MS nouv. acq. lat. 3118 (fig. 3), the Evangelist portraits in Huntington Library, HM 1141 (fig. 4) and a Book of Hours sold in London, Christies, Auction 12259, April 4, 2016, lot 466 (Online Resources).
Two additional details of our manuscript can be noted, which might in the future allow this Book of Hours to be linked with others. The iconography is slightly different than that found in most Books of Hours. Terce, Sext, and None of the Hours of the Virgin are here illustrated by the Annunciation to the Shepherds, Circumcision, and the Adoration of the Magi respectively. Usually, the Annunciation to the Shepherds at Terce is followed by the Adoration of the Magi at Sext, and the Presentation (or occasionally the Circumcision) at None. Also in the Hours of the Virgin, we may note that Lauds-Vespers concludes with prayers to St. John the Evangelist (the cathedral in Besançon was dedicated to St. John), followed by the seven Joys of the Virgin.
Avril, F. “Heures à l’usage de Besançon,” in F. Avril et N. Reynaud, Les Manuscrits à Peintures en France, 1440-1520, exh. cat. La Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris, 1993, p. 197, no. 109.
Ottosen, Knud. The Responsories and Versicles of the Latin Office of the Dead, Aarhus, 1993.
Plummer, J. The Last Flowering: French Painting in Manuscripts 1420-1530, New York, Oxford University Press, 1982.
Shipman, Carol. A Catalogue of Manuscripts Forming a Portion of The Library of Robert Hoe, New York, 1909.
The Composite Paris Calendar 1330-1530; Model Calendar with Variant
CHD Tutorial: Hours of the Virgin: Index of Selected Uses
New York, The Morgan Library and Museum, MS M.28
New York, The Morgan Library and Museum, MS M. 293
Chalons-en-Champagne, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 333
Christies, London, Auction 12259, April 4, 2016, lot 466, Besançon, c. 1460
San Marino, Huntington Library, HM 1141