Do you know what a rubricator does? Or what a morocco binding looks like compared to Russia leather. Have you ever gotten up close with a medieval manuscript or a Kelmscott Press book by William Morris? All this and more is part of our new Book Arts Hands on Tour, being offered for the first time this Sunday (8/7) at 3 PM. I don’t want to give away all our surprises, but I thought I’d offer a quick preview of one of the items in the tour: a fifteenth century French book of hours.
The book of hours was the most popular prayer book used by the laity during the Middle Ages and is the most common type of illuminated manuscript to survive today. The books centered around the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin, a set of hymns,psalms, and readings to be prayed at the seven prayer times or “hours” of the church. In keeping with their Marian focus, books of hours were frequently illustrated with scenes from Jesus’ birth and infancy narratives, such as this image of the Annunciation.
Mary is depicted in prayer with a book open before her, a very standard set of iconography that emphasized her piety and learning and demonstrates the close association between prayer and prayerbooks in the late medieval period.
Images of the Evangelists were also standard in books of hours and typically showed them writing or holding the books they authored. This picture depicts Mark with his traditional lion. (As a personal aside, I love looking at medieval images of lions, which are often quite removed from actual lions–I’m sure someone has written a book on this)
These illustrations would have been done by a separate artist from the scribe who wrote out the text and definitely added to the cost and luxury quality of the books; some of the pigments (such as gold and ultramarine blue) used for decorating and illuminating were quite expensive in their own right.
Hopefully this brief preview has piqued your interest; this is only one of the many fascinating books we’ll be exploring in our books arts tour. To find out more, come on over on Sunday; or, if you’re totally booked for this weekend, look for the tour to come around again in our rotation of hands on tours once we get our fall schedule in order.