Bearing illumination on practically every page, the Hours of Louis de Laval is a masterpiece of fifteenth-century French illumination. As one of the most richly decorated books of its age, the massive codex is a treasure trove of iconographic and compositional gems and flaunts the intricacies of artistic collaboration.
The Hours of Louis de Laval is a compilation of the Offices of the Virgin and of the Dead following Roman usage along with the Penitential Psalms, accompanied by a calendar and Litanies for the use of Tours. Although the text, chiefly Latin and including some French, is enlarged to include some rare New Testament readings, the additional contents alone do not compound into the hefty dimensions of the tome.
The arresting visible bulk of the book is in fact attributable to the exuberant illumination comprising of over 1,200 miniatures. Of this wealth of lively images featuring vivid colors and extensive use of gold, 157 miniatures span the entire page.
Gilded architectural borders ceremonially frame the pages of the manuscript and provide lavish borders for the extensive decoration, which appears to have been executed primarily across two separate campaigns and collects some of the most prestigious French artistic personalities of the epoch.
To begin, the renowned Jean Colombe and his prolific atelier worked in collaboration with personalities such as the Master of the Vienna Mamerot, who is also called the Master of the Yale Missal.
An Old Testament cycle was inserted about ten to fifteen years later, a component also found in the renowned Besançon Hours also executed in the Colombe workshop.
The profuse compositions comprise both unique arrangements that appear to have never been repeated elsewhere along with visual quotations of prominent illustrations found in renowned manuscripts, such as Jean Fouquet's Hours of Etienne Chevalier.
The fine bâtarde script adds further elegance to the book and is also lavishly decorated with exceptional initials and line fillers.
Made for a Knight of the Order of Saint Michael
The atelier of Jean Colombe in Bourges was a central address for luxurious manuscripts, and the artist enjoyed commissions from society's elite: his most frequent patron was Charles I, Duke of Savoy.
Louis de Laval was a leading political figure of the fifteenth century. He was Lord of Châtillon and served as an adviser to King Louis XI in addition to numerous French dukes and kings. He likely commissioned this massive Book of Hours around the time of his admission into the prestigious royal order of Saint Michael in 1469.
His arms are prominently depicted throughout the manuscript and are complemented with two "portraits" of the renowned knight himself on fols. 51r and 334v.
Upon his death, the book was inherited by Anne of France, the daughter of King Louis XI who served as regent for her brother Charles VIII. Her arms are also found in the manuscript, beginning a trend of royal owners who left their mark on the spectacular book for generations.
The morocco red leather binding à la fanfare carries the monogram of King Henry IV, who outfitted the manuscript with another touch of royal splendor while it was in his possession at the end of the sixteenth century.