The luxurious Book of Hours of Maria of Navarre was probably commissioned by Peter IV, the "Ceremonious," King of Aragon, for his wife, Maria of Navarre, within four years of their marriage in 1338. In addition to celebrating the legacy of the Parisian queen’s family, the extravagant codex is a significant monument of Spanish book illumination. The manuscript features almost 400 illuminations in the form of full-page miniatures, opulently ornamented borders, and a wealth of historiated and decorated initials, in delicate, lively colors and with the abundant use of gold on every single page.
The decoration and texts of the manuscript—a book for Christian private devotions— were personalized for the queen consort. Among the prayer services featured in the manuscript are the Hours of Saint Louis, of whom Maria of Navarre was a direct descendant.
A Monument of Catalan Illumination
The manuscript's illumination is attributed to the close collaboration of two or three illuminators. If three, they should be identified as Ferrer Bassa, his son Arnau Bassa, and a painter who often collaborated with them known as the Baltimore Master—the last named for a triptych in the Walters Art Museum. Another example of their teamwork is a portable altarpiece featuring scenes from the lives of Christ, the Virgin, and saints (New York, The Morgan Library & Museum).
Court artist to the house of Aragon, Ferrer Bassa was active as a panel painter and illuminator in Catalonia between 1321 and 1348. Ferrer Bassa's participation in the illumination of Maria's book of hours is documented in a letter dated April 26, 1342, in which King Peter made an urgent request that Maria send him the beautiful book of hours that was painted by "Ferrerius Bassa." The letter emphasizes the esteem in which the king held this extraordinary work of art and also gives a terminus ante quem (point before which) for the creation of the book.
Celebrating Family Heritage
The manuscript's personalization for Maria is evident not only in the inclusion of the Hours of Saint Louis but also in the nine images of the queen, which are complemented by sixteen shields bearing her heraldry. The manuscript, which was acquired by the Biblioteca Marciana in 1974, is understood to be the first book of hours illuminated on the Iberian Peninsula.