One of the most outstanding masterpieces of late Flemish book illumination, the Younger Prayer Book of Charles V was crafted for the Emperor in Flanders after 1540. There, the art of book decoration kept on flourishing even after the printing press had had the best of manuscript production, which soon became progressively rare.
The Younger Prayer Book of Charles V: a Subtly Noble Book
This prayer book's elegance and refinement amaze the reader. The grisaille decorations, which are highlighted in gold and shaded dark and light grey endow the monochrome painting with plastic vivacity. Colors and gold are used sparingly, so this exquisite devotional book has a truly subtly noble feel to it. The book's contents are practically those of a standard book of hours, a work that usually takes its inspiration from the devotion to the Virgin. The main bulk of the text is preceded by a Calendar. Each prayer is then enlivened by means of red rubrics, the titles often being penned in red majuscules. The Younger Prayer Book of Charles V includes a total of 429 initials, all of which are grey on a black background. The ground was then filled with gold sand and framed enclosed in golden lines. The exceptional decorations of that are meant to illustrate each prayer include three full-size title pages, two 'astronomic clocks', two vignettes and 73 miniatures, all of which are framed by three-dimensional motifs. Furthermore, the Renaissance script in which the text was composed and the decorations were inspired by Italian archetypes.
The Text and the Miniatures: Two Symilar Styles Fused into One Harmonious Whole
Scholars term the script in which the text is written humanistica formata, an extremely clear Renaissance hand that features extremely balanced and readable letters. This script was derived from Italian scripts such as the so-called antiqua; an Italian feel, however, is also found in the book's decoration. The illuminations in the Younger Prayer Book of Charles V look like small framed paintings juxtaposed to the text. Their setting and architectural elements convey three-dimensionality by guiding the beholder's gaze from the text, through the wooden frame and inside the picture. The Younger Prayer Book was given this name because it was made two decades after a so-called Older Prayer Book: however, the layout and decorative styles of the two books are extremely different. Various full-length illuminations or full and half page miniatures are much smaller in size in this manuscript, compared to its 'predecessor'. The frame of the pictures, too, differs in the Younger Prayer Book: illuminations and prayer incipits are no longer coupled, the miniatures being set within narrow gold and brown borders that provide the picture with a touch of realism.
The Influence of Italian Masters in a Unique Masterpiece
The Younger Prayer Book of Charles V represents a turning point in the history of Flemish book painting after 1530, since it is a perfect synthesis of both the Gothic tradition and Italian influences. This book of hours is more than a work of art: it is a document that witnesses what many may consider an unconventional feature of Flemish book illumination. The subtle exuberance of its decoration and the somewhat discreet colors make this manuscript a noble gem, a prayer book fit for an emperor in his older age.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Younger Prayer Book of Charles V": Das jüngere Gebetbuch Kaiser Karls V facsimile edition, published by Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt (ADEVA), 1993