Known to experts but unpublished in scholarly literature, this miniature Book of Hours contains an important series of six miniatures and seven illuminated incipit pages from the workshop of the Veneto-Paduan illuminator, cartographer, and printer Benedetto Bordon (c. 1450/55-1530). Likely commissioned by a member of the Belegno family, it is among the smallest Italian Books of Hours known, and the unusual inclusion of miniatures for the Mass of the Virgin, the Prayer of Saint Augustine and the Fifteen Prayers of Saint Bridget indicates a patron of exceptional status and devotional interest.

178 leaves, plus one unnumbered flyleaf at beginning and one at end, complete except for three missing bifolia in gathering iii (collation: parchment pastedown forms bifolio with one unnumbered flyleaf, i2, ii10, iii4 [three bifolia missing between ff. 14v and 15], iv-viii10, ix-x8, xi5 [first blank cancelled], xii10, xiii3 [first bank cancelled], xiv-xvi10, xvii2, xviii9 [blank after fourth folio in gathering is cancelled], xix7 [first blank cancelled], xx10, xxi11 [first blank cancelled], xxii7 [blank after fourth folio in gathering is cancelled], unnumbered flyleaf forms bifolio with pastedown), modern foliation and collation in pencil, original vertical catchwords on final versos of all gatherings except i, xi, xiii, xvii, xix, xxi and xxii, 12 lines, ruled faintly in grayish-brown ink (justification 28 x 19 mm.), written in brown ink in a fine Italian cancelleresca hand, rubrics in red and one- and two-line initials in red and blue, three-line incipit initials for each hour of the Hours of the Virgin written in gold upon a vermillion ground, six full-page miniatures on the verso sides of otherwise blank folios, four of which are encapsulated by ovoid borders formed by gold-bronze acanthus leaves and two of which are surrounded by rectangular picture-frame borders, each miniature followed by an elaborate incipit page composed of a colored illusionistic cartouche surrounded by gold-bronze all’antica ornamentation or grotesques upon a colored background, and a seventh incipit page (for the litany) not facing a miniature, good condition except for some ink stains at folios 94v-97r, pastedowns and flyleaves appear original, Arthur A. Houghton "AHA" bookplate glued to upper pastedown, modern number stamp glued to lower pastedown with stricken "7", "38" and "BH00" written upon it, Bound in green velvet of undetermined date, in a modern green slipcase and box marked "BOOK OF HOURS, ILLUMINATED MS., VENICE, C. 1500". Dimensions 50 x 34 mm.


1. Written and decorated in Venice, c. 1500-1510, possibly for an individual connected to the Augustinian or Brigittine orders. The coat of arms on f. 3r is of the Belegno family (lozenge-shaped shield, bendy of 8, argent and gules).

2. Motto written in an 18th-century hand on folios 1 and 86: “Sur les bords fortunés ou commence l'asie."

3. Libreria Antiquaria Hoepli, Milan, 3 December 1929, lot. 81.

4. Arthur A. Houghton jr. (1907-1990); his sale at Christies, London, 5 December 1979, lot. 227.

5. H. P. Kraus, New York, Catalog no. 159, Illuminated Manuscripts from the 11th to the 18th century, 1981, cat. No. 17.

6. Jorn Günther Antiquariat, Hamburg, Catalog no. 3, Mittelalterliche Handschriften und Miniaturen, 1995, cat. No. 25.

7. Bruce Ferrini, Akron, Ohio, June 1997.

8. Private Collection, USA.


ff. 3-85v, Hours of the Virgin (Use of Rome): Matins (ff. 3-14v) [end lacking], Lauds [beginning lacking] (ff. 15-30), Prime (ff. 30v-34v), Terce (ff. 34v-38v), Sext (ff. 39r-42v), None (ff. 42v-47), Vespers (ff. 47-57) and Compline followed by weekday nocturns and prayers for Advent and Christmastide (ff. 57-85v); 

ff. 88-99, Mass of the Virgin; 

ff. 101-132, Seven Penitential Psalms, Litany, and Prayers; 

ff. 133-139, Marian Litany;

ff. 140-149, Prayer of Saint Augustine, Dulcissime domine iesu christi;

ff. 151-170, Fifteen Prayers of Saint Bridget in Italian;

ff. 172v-175v, Prayer of Saint Jerome, Deus qui populo tuo.


Six full-page miniatures, each faced with one profusely decorated incipit page; one additional incipit page:

f. 2v, Nativity, with Mary and Joseph in prayer on either side of the recumbent Christ child who is placed in a woven basket; cow and ass peer out of wood-frame manger in background; landscape view in the distance; a simple stepped rectangular frame surrounds the composition;

f. 3, Incipit page bearing the text "DOMINE LABIA MEA" in a vermillion, rectangular cartouche surrounded by gold-bronze and silver vegetal ornaments upon a dark blue ground; lozenge-shaped shield, bendy of 8, argent and gules, appears to have been added below the cartouche;

f. 87v, Priest Celebrating Mass, holding a wafer in his left hand, facing a cloth-draped altar table with chalice and crucifix surmounted by a gilded altarpiece; an acolyte holds a taper in his left hand and the celebrant's light-purple chasuble in his right hand; a polylobed acanthus-leaf frame surrounds the composition;

f. 88, Incipit page bearing the text "MISSA BEATAE MARIAE" in a purple, lozenge-shaped cartouche surrounded by gold-bronze vegetal ornaments upon a dark green ground;

f. 100v, David in Prayer, shown in profile, bald with a grey beard, hands clasped, wearing a bright red tunic and white slippers; in the foreground a viola da gamba and bow rest upon a tree-trunk, from which a solitary shoot extends upwards; a detailed landscape is visible with yellow-brown rocky peaks, distant bluish mountains and a tiny red-roofed church; an oval acanthus-leaf frame surrounds the composition;

f. 101, Incipit page bearing the text "INCIPIUNT SEPTEM PSALMI" in a dark green inverted-heart-shaped cartouche surrounded by gold-bronze and silver vegetal ornaments upon a purple ground;

f. 133r, Incipit page bearing the text "INCIPIUNT LETANIE" in a blue cartouche surrounded by silver grotesques and gold-bronze and silver vegetal ornaments upon a vermilion ground;

f. 139v, Saint Augustine in his Study, wearing a mitre, white robe and black hood, seated upon a Savonarola chair at an elaborate golden angled writing desk, writing in a book, shelf, bench, and window visible in the background; a polylobed acanthus-leaf frame surrounds the composition;

f. 140, Incipit page bearing the text "ORATIO S. AUGUSTINI" in a purple, rectangular cartouche surrounded by gold-bronze and silver vegetal ornaments upon a green ground;

f. 150v, Saint Bridget in Prayer before a Crucifix, haloed and wearing a white and black brigittine robe; the Crucifix bears a realistic, full-color Christ figure and is implanted into the ground; in the background a detailed landscape is visible with yellow hills, bluish-green trees and a crenelated town or monastery; a simple stepped rectangular frame surrounds the composition;

f. 151, Incipit page bearing the text "ORATIO[N]ES B. BRIGIDE" in a green, rectangular cartouche held up by a silver winged putto and surrounded by gold-bronze vegetal ornaments upon a purple ground;

f. 171v, Penitent Saint Jerome, kneeling before a small Crucifix and holding a rock in his right hand, wearing an open light-purple tunic; a lion, rocks, and a red cardinal's hat are visible in the foreground; in the background a detailed landscape is visible with yellow hills, bluish-green trees and a hilltop tow; a polylobed acanthus-leaf frame surrounds the composition;

f. 172, Incipit page with a vermilion cartouche but with no text visible, surrounded by gold-bronze and silver vegetal ornaments upon a dark blue ground.

Despite their diminutive size, the six miniatures in this tiny Book of Hours relate closely to large-scale painting in Venice around 1500. The book was clearly produced in the circle of Benedetto Bordon by a collaborator equally receptive to the stylistic innovations of such great masters as Andrea Mantegna, Vittore Carpaccio, Giovanni Bellini, and Cima da Conegliano. Though the details of Bordon’s workshop practice and assistants remain to be pieced together, the miniatures may be by an accomplished collaborator known as the “Second Grifo Master” after his involvement in the decoration of a Canzoniere owned by the poet-scribe Antonio Grifo (Venice, Biblioteca Marciana, It. Z. 64).  Compare the so-called Gritti-Arundel-Walpole Psalter of the Prince d’Anjou (Wormsley Library, fig. 1).

Bordon himself was an interesting and eclectic figure, variously employed as a painter, illuminator, editor, and cartographer, who played an important role in cultivating a distinct visual culture in Veneto-Paduan humanist circles. The son of a Paduan barber, the young Bordon, the Second Grifo Master, and Girolamo da Cremona collaborated on the illumination of a series of lavish legal texts commissioned by the bookseller Peter Ugelheimer in 1477-79. By the early 1490s, Bordon had moved from Padua to Venice where he became involved in the designing and financing of printed books illustrated by woodcuts, the most famous of which was the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili printed by Aldus Manutius in 1499, for which he likely provided the models. In 1523 he was contracted to produce a lavish Epistolary and Evangeliary for the Monastery of Santa Giustina in Padua, which both survive today, as do a number of other liturgical and devotional works from throughout his career. In 1526, he produced a book of maps that became known as the Isolario, clear evidence of his skill as a cartographer. By early 1530 he had redacted a will and returned to Padua, where he died soonafter. Bordon's works were evidently sought-out by the highest circles of patrons in and around Venice: in 1532 the chronicler Marcantonio Michiel recorded that the great merchant and collector Andrea Odoni had a Book of Hours illuminated by Bordon in his collection.

The tiny miniatures in the present book bear a close resemblance to firmly dated works illuminated by Bordon of around 1500, which suggest that it was produced at least partially under his supervision. These include the frontispieces of an edition of Martial’s Epigrammes of 1501 and a commission issued by Doge Leonardo Loredan to Antonio Foscarini, both of which are now in the British Library (C4D11, ff. 2v-3r cat. no. 172 in Mariani Canova, ed., La miniatura a Padova, and Add. MS 20916, f. 3r, respectively). All of these contain the same, exquisite golden-bronze acanthus leaf borders and grotesques that are found throughout the miniatures and incipit pages of the present book. The Foscarini commission (fig. 2), which dates from 1514, includes a similar floral cartouche of complimentary color that encompasses the incipit text. The Martial, also very small in size (151 x 97 mm), contains the same type of rectangular frame, lit from the top-right, as the Nativity and Saint Bridget miniatures in the present Book of Hours. Stylistic comparison with another Book of Hours illuminated by Bordon (Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, ms. 1970; see Mariani Canova, ed., La miniatura a Padova, cat. No. 152, pp. 373-74), however, reveals a distinct shift away from the brighter palette and definite contours that characterize Bordon’s work. A second miniature Book of Hours of slightly larger dimensions (79 x 55 mm), also apparently decorated in the Bordon workshop during the first decade of the sixteenth century but without any full-page miniatures, was likewise sold in the 1979 Houghton sale (lot. 229, later Laurence Witten, Catalogue 12, 1980, no. 22 and ibid., Catalogue 18, 1983, no. 45, then Sotheby's London 25 June 1985, lot 111 and ibid., 20 June 1995, lot 97).

The present artist’s more painterly style may be identifiable with the work of the so-called “Second Grifo Master,” an individual thought to have collaborated with Bordon throughout his career, beginning with the 1477-79 Ugelheimer commissions (see Marcon, “Una aldina miniata,” pp. 120-24). This assistant’s brushwork is more stippled and atmospheric than that of Bordon, with a subdued color palette more receptive of coeval developments in monumental painting. The miniature of Saint Augustine in his study, for example, shows astonishing parallels with the famous scene by Carpaccio from the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, especially in small details like the red hem of the saint’s cloak, the bell resting on the writing desk, and the detail of the wall-shelf with books resting upon it (fig. 3). The miniature of the penitent Saint Jerome relates more generically to panel paintings of the subject by Jacopo and Giovanni Bellini, Bartolomeo Montagna, and Cima da Conegliano, a genre that was extremely popular amongst humanist patrons in Northern Italy at the time.

The Belegno coat-of-arms on f. 3 appears to have been painted over the page, though it may have been added by the original owner. The Belegni were a noble Venetian family, attested in the Libro d’Oro prior to the serrata of 1297, though their history in the renaissance period remains obscure. As the Book of Hours lacks a calendar, it is difficult to further identify its original patron with much specificity, and the litany does not include any saints unusual in a Venetian context. The use of the male form “famulo tuo” in the Ominpotens sempiterne prayer on fol. 129v suggests a male owner. In H.P. Kraus’s 1981 catalogue (Illuminated Manuscripts from the 11th to the 18th century, cat. no. 17) the patron was erroneously suggested to be Jacopo Zeno, the bibliophile archbishop of Padua (1418-81), but the book is clearly too late in date to have been in his library. The curious inscription, written in an eighteenth-century hand on f. 1 and repeated on f. 86 is in fact a variation of a famous line of verse from chapter nine of Voltaire’s La Henriade (1723): “Sur les bords fortunés de l’antique Idalie, lieux où finit l’Europe et commence l'Asie” (On the storied borderlands of ancient Italia, where Europe ends and Asia begins). Unfortunately, the content of this inscription does not help establish the name of the eighteenth-century owner.


Mariani Canova, Giordana. “Profilo di Benedetto Bordon miniatore padovano,” Atti dell’Istituto Veneziano di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, cxxvii (1968–9), pp. 99–112.

Alexander, Jonathan J. G., ed. The Painted Page: Italian Renaissance Book Illumination, 1450–1550, London, Royal Academy/New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, 1994.

Marcon, Susy. “Una Aldina miniata,” in Aldo Manuzio e l’ambiente veneziano 1494-1515, ed. Susy Marcon and Marino Zorzi, Venice, Il Cardo, 1994, pp. 107-133.

Armstrong, Lilian. “Benedetto Bordon, miniator, and cartography in early sixteenth-century Venice,” Imago Mundi: The International Journal for the History of Cartography, xlviii (1996), pp. 65–92.

Mariana Canova, Giordana, ed. La Miniatura a Padova dal Medioevo al Settecento, Modena, Franco Cosimo Pannini, 1999, pp. 351-416.

Marcon, Susy. “Bordon, Benedetto,” in Dizionario biografico dei miniatori italiani, ed. Milvia Bollati, Milan, 2004, pp. 121-125

Online Resources

Bollati, Milvia, “Bordon, Benedetto,” in Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T010087

We are grateful to Nicholas Herman for his assistance with this description

BOH 230

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