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Medieval Illuminated Manuscripts



What is a Book of Hours?
This miniature was cut from a Book of Hours. The Virgin Mary is offering a pink carnation, a symbol of love, to the Christ Child.
zoom This miniature was cut from a Book of Hours. The Virgin Mary is offering a pink carnation, a symbol of love, to the Christ Child.

 

A Book of Hours is a small, brilliantly decorated prayer book for private devotions. Unlike other religious books, which were meant strictly for clergymen, a Book of Hours was for anyone who could read. These books became immensely popular because of their beautiful illuminations. They were also status symbols, signifying the owner’s wealth. Families who had never before owned a book went out and bought a Book of Hours. For over 250 years these books were best-sellers.

A Book of Hours consisted of prayers, psalms, a list of saints days, and short readings for certain hours of the day. Many were very small, sometimes only a few inches tall, making them easy to carry around and use throughout the day.

Even the simpliest Book of Hours has wonderful decorations. The beautiful illuminations serve as bookmarks of a kind, helping the reader find the beginning of each new section. Aristocrats who ordered their Book of Hours directly from the artist often said how they wanted them decorated. Sometimes, the owner’s face even appeared in a picture.


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1. In this painting, also in the museum's collection, the Virgin Mary holds a Book of Hours.
2. This close-up gives a better look at the text.

 

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April 2005