As we’re approaching Easter, we thought we would share some topical images from a beautiful book of hours recently discovered in the Thackeray collection. Books of hours were medieval devotional books often lavishly illustrated with illuminations and decorations. They usually contained an almanac, selections from the Gospels and Psalms, and various prayers and devotions. With the advent of printing in the fifteenth century, books of hours became more affordable, and manuscript versions were only produced for wealthy individuals.
This volume was published in Paris in 1505, and is remarkable in that it is printed entirely on vellum:
The text is printed in red and black with initials illuminated in red, blue and gold; each page is surrounded by an ornamental woodcut border:
The book also contains many full-page as well as smaller woodcuts. Below is a depiction of the Annunciation:
Books of hours often contained the Little Office of Our Lady, also known as Hours of the Virgin, a liturgical prayer to the Virgin Mary:
Below is a woodcut of the Tree of Jesse, an artistic representation of Jesus’s ancestors:Books of hours also contain a selection from each of the four Gospels:
This book also has a fascinating history behind it. On the recto of the third fly-leaf is an ownership inscription in German: “Daß püechlein ist fon ihr Gräffin fon Ermelstein”. Underneath it is a hand-drawn coat of arms with the following Latin inscription: “Commitisse de Ermelstein libellus iste spectat, ex dono Caesareae M[aiestat]is Imperatricis Eleonorae dictae Comitisse elargito anno .14. electionis suae in camerariam eiusdem maiestatis suae. E”:
The inscription appears to be by the Countess of Ermelstein, who received the book as a gift from Empress Eleonore Magdalene of Neuburg (1655-1720) fourteen years after her coronation. As Eleonore was crowned Holy Roman Empress in 1690, the book must have been presented to the Countess of Ermelstein in 1704.
Happy Easter from everyone at King’s College Library and Archives.