The richness of this breviary shows the will of Ercole I d’Este to rival with his brother Borso, who preceded him on the Dukedom of Ferrara.
It was illuminated between 1502 and 1504, and it is a really masterpiece of Ferrara’s illumination. It shows influences from the Lombardy and the Flemish Illumination.
The incredible artist is Matteo da Milano, who was helped by Tommaso da Modena, and Cesare and Andrea della Vieze. These artists illuminated the 491 charts of this precious manuscript, enriched by 45 full-pages illuminated charts, 11 half-pages ones, 40 illustrated scenes in small rectangular frames. There are also 17160 initials, 308 of which inhabited, historiated or decorated with scenes and figures from the Breviary’s text, 31 decorated initials, 8457 golden initials upon a blu background, 8306 filigreed initials with thin intertwined spirals, made with a pen with red, blu or green ink. These numbers alone confirm the Breviary as an authentic monument of Ferrara’s illumination.
The manuscript has numerous ornamental motives, saints’ figures, portraits, images of animals and plants, emblems and coats of arms featuring Ercole I and his successor Alfonso I. The adventurous story of the Codex starts in the first years of 1500. It has rested for about three centuries in the ducal “wardrobe”, only to be brought to Vienna from 1801 to 1831, thanks to Ercole III, who wanted to keep the manuscript away from the French. The Breviary then went back to the Biblioteca Ducale for a few years, when in 1859 Francesco V took it to Vienna, along with the Bible of Borso and the Book of Hours of Alfonso d’Este. At this time, the Breviary was already without four illuminated charts, which were bought by Archbishop Strossmayer, and are now in Strossmayer Gallery in Zagabria.
In 1929 it was recognized by the Florentine bibliophile Tammaro de Martinis, and was rendered to the Biblioteca Estense in the year 1939.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Breviary of Ercole d'Este": Breviario di Ercole I d'Este facsimile edition, published by Imago, 2011