THE ALMANAC BOOK OF HOURS, use of Rome, in Latin and French, illuminated manuscript on vellum [Bourges, c. 1490s]
A lavishly illustrated Book of Hours, attributed to the Master of the Monypenny Breviary, of outstanding iconographic variety, its exceptional border cycles including weeping eyes for the Passion, an Armorial, the Planetary Deities, the Liberal Arts, the Fifteen Signs of Doomsday and a Dance of Death featuring the illuminator himself.
196 x 123mm, ii paper + 121 + ii paper (unfoliated) leaves, 22 lines, ruled space: 120 x 70mm, rubrics in red, illuminated initials throughout, four historiated initials, full borders on every text page, twelve historiated, about 400 border miniatures, 26 small miniatures, 12 full-page miniatures in architectural frames incorporating text; Southern Netherlandish replacement leaves, mid-16th century: one calendar leaf, one half-page miniature and three full-page miniatures, extensions to borders ff. 116-118v (lacking six leaves with large miniatures: two before f.10, one before each of ff.20, 48, 73; lacking three, possibly more, leaves with small miniatures: before ff.116, 119, 120 and possibly three leaves after f.121; lacking one text leaf after f.72; damage to upper outer sections of ff.1-7 into text and border miniatures, f.5 then trimmed at side to edge of text area, f.7 loss just extending into miniature; upper corners of ff.52, 56, 67 made up with approximation of missing portion of border miniature on recto). 18th-century red morocco gilt.
(1) The style of text decoration and miniatures shows that the manuscript was produced in Bourges. The ecclesiastics and laymen praying in some marginal miniatures, e.g. ff.53v, 84v-87v, seem generic figures, not owner portraits; three men, not contemporary, in the border of f.77v, appear below a shield, azure, three crosses potent or, surmounted by a crown, which awaits plausible identification: the cross potent reappearing within the crown of thorns, f.78, suggests an evocation of the Kingdom of Jerusalem (argent, a cross potent between four crosses or, see f.48v). On f.79v, two contemporary ladies kneel pray below a sunburst (an emblem of Charles VIII) enclosing a star against a background of gold rain drops or tears: weeping eyes around the Passion narrative are among the book’s highly individual features. If this is the owner with an attendant, a possible clue to her identity lies in the rare appearance in the Dance of Death of Lamirale, the wife of the Admiral of France, f.108v: from 1486 to her death in 1503 this was Marie de Balsac, first wife of the noted bibliophile Louis Malet de Graville, who commissioned luxury volumes from Bourges as well as Paris. At an unknown date he remarried, Jeanne de Garlande, and in 1508 surrendered his office as Admiral. Military associations are also indicated by the noble out a-maying, f.3, he and his horse are most unusually in armour, the letters on the trapper seemingly as meaningless as those on many buildings and garments.
(2) Ricardo Heredia y Livermoore, Count of Benahavis (1831-1896): monogrammed book label inside upper cover. A prominent collector, he divided his library between Madrid and Paris, where most of it was dispersed in four sales 1891-1894, leaving especially treasured volumes in family hands.
Calendar January to October, indicative of Paris use with Genevieve in blue, the highest ranking colour (3 Jan) ff.1-5; Calendar November and December, for Southern Netherlandish use (replaced leaf) f.6; Gospel sequences (lacking Matthew and beginning of Mark, f.10 with end of Mark replaced) ff.7-10; Matthew I 1-16 (f.10 replaced) ff.10v-11v; Passion according to John (f.12 replaced) ff.12-19v; Obsecro te in masculine (lacking opening) ff.20-21v; O intemerata in masculine ff.21v-23; prayers and Apostles Creed (lacking end) ff.23v-26v; Office of the Virgin, use of Rome, ff.27-69v: matins with three lessons f.27 (replacement leaf), lauds f.33v, prime f.40v, terce f.43v, sext f.46 (replacement leaf), none (lacking opening) f.48, vespers f.50, compline f.54v, seasonal variants f.58v; Hours of the Conception of the Virgin ff.69v-71v; Hours of the Cross (lacking end) f.72r and v; Hours of the Holy Spirit (lacking opening) ff.73-74v; Penitential Psalms and litany ff.75-87v; Office of the Dead, use of Rome, ff.88-115v; suffrages ff.116-121v
The Almanac Hours takes its name from the quantity of pictorial information in its extraordinarily rich border decoration, comprising some 400 subjects. In addition to numerous text illustrations and devotional themes like the Vices and Virtues, the Sibyls as prophets of Christ, the Fifteen Signs of Doomsday and the Dance of Death, the borders contain an Armorial, the Planetary Deities and the Liberal Arts. Using a Book of Hours as a source of information is famously, and more limitedly, evident in the herbal of Bourdichon’s Grande heures of Queen Anne of Brittany (BnF ms lat. 9474). The sumptuous programme of the Almanac Hours may have been encouraged by the pictorial borders of Parisian printed Books of Hours but it follows them in neither form, drawing on different sources, nor content, apparently introducing the completely novel themes of the Armorial, ff.28-53v, and of the astounding weeping eyes, surely intended to shock the viewer into empathetic imitation while meditating on the exceptionally full cycle of Passion pictures, ff.13-19v.
Instead the wealth of decoration is rooted in Bourges conventions, as developed by Jean Colombe (doc. 1463-1493), the illuminator chosen to complete the Très riches heures of the Duke of Berry. In the Hours of Louis de Laval, Paris, BnF ms lat. 920, and in a series of luxurious Hours, Colombe placed narrative sequences in the lower margins and scenes directly illustrating the text to the sides. Such illustrative scenes are among the many remarkable achievements of the Almanac Hours, where much greater skill is shown in avoiding repetition and much greater ingenuity in translating words into images, e.g. the hart panting for the water brooks of Ps 41, f.104v, or in extending the words through associated images e.g. for the Te deum credited to St Ambrose, his baptism of St Augustine, f.32v. Running from the Office of the Virgin to the end of the book, these scenes accompany the two-line initials, so that three may occur on one page, together with one or two other cycles, e.g. on f.32v the Birth of Venus and the King of Bohemia’s arms. The Laval Hours, or its models, were the direct source for the Sibyls ff.65v-69, while the arms given the Nine Worthy Ladies, ff.45-53v, follow Colombe’s illuminations for Sebastien Mamerot’s new formulation (Vienna, ÖNB, cod. 2578, dated 1472).
Much thought must have gone into the programme. The Fifteen Signs are a very rare visualisation of the distinct French vernacular version, not the images informed by the Latin textual tradition usual in print and manuscript, resulting in striking scenes like the landscape coloured by rains of blood, f.58, and the moon, turned to a bloody child, trying to run into the sea, f.59v. The Dance of Death, popular as an independent text and as border decoration, also appears here in a distinct form, merging the Paris tradition, derived from the murals in the Cimitière des Innocents and circulated in editions by Marchant (1486 and 1491) and Vérard (1491), with the German-Swiss tradition, also available in print and the probable source for the Count and Countess, male cripple and Empress. The figures and labels are seldom exact repetitions of the prints and the illuminator himself is introduced to conclude the Men’s Dance, f.106, surely predating Niklaus Manuel Deutsch’s self-portrait in his Bern murals of 1516-1519 and probably predating the cuts of the printer and book dealer in Huss’s 1499 Lyon edition. The Almanac Hours contains the earliest known representation of the artist in a pictorial Dance of Death.
This artist, responsible for most of the miniatures, can be identified as the Monypenny Master, noted for his successful interpretations of unusual subjects and named from his work alongside Jacquelin de Montluçon in the Monypenny Breviary of c.1485-90, one of the great monuments of Bourges illumination (Private Collection, see F. Avril and N. Reynaud, Les manuscrits à peintures en France 1430-1515, 1993, no 188; Sotheby’s, 6 July, 2000, lot 79). Whereas Jacquelin signed one miniature, the basis for attributions to the Monypenny Master remains imprecise: several hands were evidently working in the same style, characterised by a preference for richly coloured compositions, set in architectural frames, with a few large foreground figures, their simplified heads carefully defined, often with prominent cheekbones, while background figures, landscapes and buildings are deftly and economically indicated. Within the Almanac Hours, the more evident brushwork of the Suicide of Herod, f.50, is seen in many miniatures given to the Master in the Breviary, as is the smoother finish of scenes like the Visitation, f.33v, or Job and his family, f.88, notably in the equivalent Job scene, f.324. This Breviary composition is virtually repeated in the Hours, adapted from half- to full-length, with many of the same quirks of draughtsmanship and the same techniques, including the fine gold detailing and highlighting. The same hand seems responsible for both.
Books of Hours credited to the Monypenny Master show similarly close stylistic and compositional connections with the Almanac Hours. Two Hours linked by their borders of wildmen (present in delicate camaïeu d’or in the Almanac Hours f.20), Yale University Library, Beinecke ms 436, and Grenoble, BM, ms 1101, contain miniatures attributable to the main hand of the Almanac Hours, as well as close variants of its occupations of the months, Visitation, Nativity, Annunciation to the Shepherds and Massacre of the Innocents. The last three, and the occupations, reappear in the Guy de Castelnau Breviary, NY, Morgan Library and Museum, ms M. 8, recently attributed to the Monypenny Master by François Avril, who identified its distinctive illuminated initials as the work of a collaborator of the Colombe atelier (‘Bourges centre de production de manuscrits enluminés au XVe siècle: Jean Colombe et ses émules’, Geoffroy Tory de Bourges, Humanisme et arts du livre à la Renaissance, 2019, pp.28-13); we are grateful to M. Avril for recognising this hand in the initials of the Almanac Hours. Since St Luke painting the Virgin in the Grenoble Hours, f.5, is derived from the illuminator in the Almanac Dance of Death, the Almanac Hours apparently predates the Yale and Grenoble Hours, considered to be c.1500, while postdating the Monypenny Breviary.
A Bourges Book of Hours in Philadelphia (Free Library, ms Lewis E 86) uses many of these patterns in miniatures unmistakably by the principal hand of the Almanac Hours; one miniature, St John the Evangelist, f.13, is by the hand of the Almanac Hours’ Meeting at the Golden Gate, Christ in the House of Simon and neighbouring border scenes, ff.66-72v, distinguished by the sharp tonal contrasts of their flesh modelling. Christine Seidel attributed the Philadelphia Hours to the ‘Chief Painter of the Romuléon, Paris BnF mss fr. 365-7’ (Zwischen Tradition und Innovation: die Anfänge des Buchmalers Jean Colombe und die Kunst in Bourges zur Zeit Karls VII. von Frankreich, 2017, p.87), whom Marie Jacob considers to be probably the Monypenny Master but cautiously names the ‘Emulator of the Monypenny Master’ (Dans l’atelier des Colombe (Bourges 1470-1500). La représentation de l’Antiquité en France à la fin du xve siècle, Rennes, 2012, pp.61-69). Jacob also associates him with Arsenal ms 5062, a luxurious secular commission from a Bourges patron, Béraud Stuart d’Aubigny, who leads his troops, f.203v, in a derivation from the same workshop pattern as the unusual knight a-maying in the Hours, f.3. A full publication of the Monypenny Breviary and a detailed study of all the associated manuscripts would clarify whether there is one Monypenny Master, working with assistants, or the Master and a distinct Emulator, however named.
The Almanac Hours and three of these manuscripts are linked iconographically by their fashionable Italian Renaissance quotations from the so-called Mantegna Tarocchi engravings, the first ‘E series’ of c.1465. The Planetary Deities and the Liberal Arts appear in the Almanac Hours and, in a slightly different form, with the Virtues in the Calendar of the Monypenny Breviary, attributed to the illuminator of a similar calendar in a Parisian Hours, BL. Add. 11866; the Cardinal Virtues feature in Arsenal ms 5062, f.17, and Jupiter and perhaps Mars in BnF ms fr. 365, ff.43v and 64 (F. Avril, ‘Un écho inattendu des «tarots» dits de Mantegna dans l’enluminure française autour de 1500’, Neue Forschungen zur Buchmalerei, ed. C. Beier, 2009, pp.95-106; B. Coombs, ‘Distancia Jungit’: Scots Patronage of the Visual Arts in France, PhD thesis, University of Edinburgh, 2013, pp.34, 87, convincingly dating Arsenal ms 5062 to 1500-1501). The Virtues in the Almanac Hours, however, follow the new French iconography devised earlier in the 15th century.
For all the fascination of identifying its wide-ranging sources, the apparent innovations of the Almanac Hours remain outstanding. The startling miniature for Vespers of the Office of the Virgin, f.50, shows Herod’s suicide provoked by the body of his son, massacred with the Innocents in Bethlehem. Although belief in Herod’s suicide was common and his slaughtered son, mentioned in the Golden Legend, started appearing in Books of Hours in the later 15th century, perhaps borrowed from mystery plays, their fusion as cause and effect seems unique to the Almanac Hours. Also exceptional is marking the Hours of the Cross, f.72, with Christ in the house of Simon, a choice that emphasises the treachery of Judas. Keeper of the common purse from which he stole (John XII 1-6), Judas was popularly held to have betrayed Christ partly to recoup the value of the spikenard poured over His feet: on the verso Judas receives his blood money.
The miniature of David and Uriah, f.75, stands apart for its architectural frame in pure Renaissance style and for its greater reliance on line, perhaps more typical of Parisian illumination. It comes within a gathering ff.73-79 where the borders of ff.73-74v and 77-79v (with the ladies and sunburst) deploy a somewhat different vocabulary from the rest of the manuscript, although by the same hand as the David borders on the miniature bifolio ff.75/76 and of the small miniatures of saints, ff.119-121.
By the mid-16th century leaves were missing that needed to be replaced, ff.6, 11, 12, 27 and 46. The Calendar for November and December, illustrated by the enchanting snow scene with horse-drawn sleigh, is for Southern Netherlandish use and the miniatures are Netherlandish in style, appropriately harking back to earlier models. Probably at this time extensions echoing Netherlandish conventions were added to the borders on ff.116-118v. The care taken to match the original script and decoration shows that the extraordinary features of this remarkable book were already highly valued.
The subjects of the large miniatures are: St John on Patmos f.7, St Luke f.8v, Tree of Jesse (replacement leaf) f.10v, Agony in the Garden (half-page on replacement leaf) f.12v, Lamentation f.21v, Annunciation (replacement leaf) f.27, Visitation f.33v, Nativity f.40v, Annunciation to the Shepherds f.43v, Adoration of the Magi (replacement leaf) f.46, Suicide of Herod and Massacre of the Innocents f.50, Coronation of the Virgin f.54v, the Meeting at the Golden Gate f.69v, Christ in the house of Simon f.72, David sending Uriah to his death f.75, Job and his family f.88.
The subjects of the small miniatures, at half- or three-quarters- length, are: Betrayal of Christ f.13, Christ before Pilate f.14v, Crowning with Thorns f.15v, Ecce homo f.16, Pilate washing his hands f.16v, Christ carrying the Cross f.17, Crucifixion f.18, Deposition f.19, Lamentation f.19v, God the Father f.23v, God the Son, the Dove of the Holy Ghost f.24, Trinity f.24v, angels supporting Christ’s body f.25, Sts Peter and Paul f.116, Andrew f.116v, James f.117, Bartholomew f.117v, Stephen f.118, Lawrence f.118v, Nicholas f.119, Claud f.119v, Anne teaching the Virgin to read f.120, Mary Magdalene f.120v, Katherine f.121, Margaret f.121v.
The subjects of the historiated initials are: the seven-headed Apocalyptic beast, Hell, Christ on the Cross, God the Father f.19v
The subjects of the border miniatures or historiated borders are: occupation of the month with zodiac sign and figures or scenes for the major feasts ff.1-6 (f.6 replaced); borders of tears in one or more colours, white, red and black, flowing from a red rimmed eye, from f.13 with Passion scenes, ff.12 (replaced) - f.19v; wildmen f.20, fleur de lys and lilies f.20v, musician angels f.21, Mass of St Gregory f.25, Christ teaching the Lord’s Prayer f.26, Annunciation and Visitation f.26v; Old Testaments types for the Virgin ff.28-29; from f.31 to f.115v, with the exception of ff.65v-69 and 84v-87v, every text with a two-line initial has a scene directly illustrating or visualising its content, detailed below only when forming narrative cycles; an Armorial with each shield in a sunburst and the upper and inner borders patterned with the principal charge: European rulers past and present, ff.28-37, Twelve Peers of France ff.37v-44, Nine Worthies ff.44v-48v, Nine Worthy Ladies ff.49-53v; Virtues ff.27v (replaced) – 30v; Planetary Deities ff.31-34v; Liberal Arts ff.35-39v; Seven Deadly Sins, male personifications on appropriate animals ff.54-57v; Fifteen Signs of Doomsday ff.58-65; Sibyls each with a scene of her prophecy and paired Biblical figures with texts ff.65v-69; Conception and Infancy of the Virgin ff.70-71v; Passion f.71v (3 pages lacking); David ff.75v-76v, 80-82; All Saints ff.82v-84; angels holding petitions additional to litany ff.84v-87v; Dance of Death with borders of scattered bones, many with the monogram IHS in a sunburst and one or more mirrors, inscribed MEMENTO FINIS, reflecting a skull ff.88v-115v; Job ff.89-98, 101-102v, 106-107.