This Prayer Book preserved at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, belonged to Emperor Maximilian I, a man of culture with a fervid interest in books. The Older Prayer Book of Maximilian I shows numerous notes and marks of use, which suggest that the Emperor read and consulted this manuscript over a long period of time.
The codex displays five full-page miniatures set in decorated frames with delicate vines and floral motives. The Older Prayer Book was made at the time in which Emperor Maximilian was in the Low Countries fighting over territorial issues. The codex is therefore an important document of Maximilian’s devotional practices in a period of complex political responsibilities.
The Older Prayer Book of Emperor Maximilian I: A Flemish Manuscript with the Portrait of the Emperor
The illuminations of the Older Prayer Book of Emperor Maximilian I were painted by an anonymous Flemish master active in Ghent-Bruges in the second half of the fifteenth century. It was common practice in Flemish workshops to have more than one illuminator to work on one codex.
Several artists might have painted the manuscript. However, all the miniatures in the book display similar style suggesting the oversight of a single illuminator. The features of the young Maximilian appear in a miniature of the Prayer Book (fol. 61v).
The illumination depicts Maximilian wearing a crown and kneeling in front of St. Sebastian, the patron of the archers. St. Sebastian is a figure of a knight in courtly armor. The coat of arms shows the royal eagle of Germany. It thus alludes to Maximilian’s coronation as King of Germany in 1486.
The Personal Prayers of Emperor Maximilian I
The content of the Older Prayer Book is quite unique because it does not follow the traditional calendar of books of hours. The Offices of the Virgin and the Dead, which is the core of fifteenth-century hours, are missing in this codex.
The texts of the manuscript are of personal nature. In addition to more general prayers, the codex contains prayers that Maximilian might have personally selected and added to the book. Thus, the manuscript is an object of personal devotion which accompanied Maximilian I over several years.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Older Prayer Book of Emperor Maximilian I": Das ältere Gebetbuch Kaiser Maximilians facsimile edition, published by Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA), 1973