A Medieval Best-Seller? New Exhibit at Les Enluminures
November 7 to December 6, 2013 at Les Enluminures, New York—Featuring more than 20 Books of Hours dating from the 14th- through to the 16th- centuries, Les Enluminures’ fall exhibition will highlight important stages within the evolution of Books of Hours as perennial “best-sellers” within the context of time and place, and in relation to other comparable art forms of the period.
As the best preserved and surviving specimens of medieval painting for many areas and time periods, Books of Hours offer an important historical overview of the scope of religious devotion that flourished during the late Middle Ages in Northern Europe. They also represent highly personal portraits, in which the stature and daily life of the reader is revealed through the types of liturgical content, motifs, miniature illustrations, marginalia, and devotions featured. Said Dr. Sandra Hindman, founder and owner of Les Enluminures, “This engaging exhibition chronicles how such compelling factors as rarity and artistry, in lieu of recent discoveries and past innovations, continue to make Books of Hours such treasured objects as enchanting windows into the medieval realm.”
Included among the newest acquisitions on view are examples from countries in which they developed into best-sellers: France (the very heartland of the Book of Hours), Belgium (second only to France in the production of Books of Hours), and the Netherlands (the only country where the Book of Hours was translated into the vernacular).
Although Books of Hours were created originally in the 13th- century, their popularity was not fully realized until the end of the 14th- and the beginning of the 15th-centuries. Representing an exceptional example from the early phase of production is a “pre-Eyckian” manuscript painted by a group of artists probably in Antwerp, which bears the hallmarks of the “International Style,” reflected by the use of sinuous elegant forms, bright primary colors, and lush decoration refined in the Netherlands and in Belgium.
Important new finds include the recent attribution of an exquisite manuscript in pristine condition known as the Bigot Hours to Jean Bourdichon (active c. 1420-1480), a French painter and illuminator who came to prominence under the patronage of four French monarchs including Charles VII and Louis XI. This tiny manuscript opens with 5 small miniatures, which are now considered by scholars among Bourdichon’s earliest works.
A tiny manuscript in pristine condition by the 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 and lively scenes.
Innovation: Between the 1480s and c. 1550, the emergence of the printing press enabled commercial scriptoria to flourish with Paris as its epicenter. One such Book of Hours on view attests to the level of artistry maintained during this pivotal age of mass production. Featuring woodcuts by Jean Pichore (active ca. 1501-20), chief among the most sought-after manuscript illuminators in Paris, it serves as a brilliant example of Pichore’s mastery of the new medium of metal cut illustration.
For more information on Les Enluminures’ Book of Hours offerings, please visit
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