The Book of Hours of Rouen, a deluxe Christian prayer book illuminated by a follower of the Master of the Rouen Echevinage, was created in Rouen around 1475. Although a book intended for use in personal devotions, its pages are large (20 × 14.3 cm), and—with a partial or complete painted border on every page—it makes a stunning impression. In addition, it boasts eight three-quarter-page miniatures, each with a full border of stylized foliage inhabited by tiny birds and animals.
The manuscript comprises a liturgical calendar in French and the Hours of the Virgin, also known as the Little Office of the Virgin, in Latin. The hours are eight prayer services focused on the Virgin Mary designated for recitation at particular times of day, starting before dawn and extending until sundown.
Eight Miniatures for Eight "Hours"
The eight miniatures that introduce the eight "hours" of the Hours of the Virgin relate in pictures the infancy of Christ and culminate in the image of the Coronation of the Virgin Mary (p. 133). The early life of Jesus unfolds in images of The Annunciation (p. 23), the Visitation (p. 45), the Adoration of the Christ Child (p. 85), the Annunciation to the Shepherds (p. 96), the Adoration of the Magi (p. 105), the Presentation in the Temple (p. 113), and the Flight into Egypt (p. 121).
The painter sets the scenes in deep landscapes or lavish interiors. Sumptuous textiles are found even in the stable in which Jesus was born. The rich blues and reds of the drapery are highlighted in gold, and every picture shimmers. The border of the opening miniature of the Annunciation features a gold ground with coiling vines of fleshy acanthus, strawberries, and flowers. A trio of birds and an animal chase scene complete the border decoration.
Clever Variation in Border Foliage
The quarter borders on the text pages, while harmonizing well, feature a variety of foliate motifs. For example, fleshy acanthus of blue and ocher might dominate on one page, with thin vine scrolls with small spikey black and gold leaves filling most of the border on the following page.
A Calendar in French
Most of the entries in the calendar are in red and blue, with the most important feast days in gold. Among the saints' names written in gold are Martial ("the apostle to the Gauls"), Denis, Romanus of Rouen, and Thomas Becket.
The French-language calendar and the Latin prayers are written in French Bâtarde, a formalized version of an originally cursive script. A gold initial introduces each prayer on a blue and red colored ground.
The Master of the Rouen Echevinage in Lisbon
The manuscript is one of three books of hours attributed to followers of the Master of the Rouen Echevinage now in the Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal. Manuel do Cenáculo Vilas-Boas (1724-1814) once owned this one, which entered the national library in 1851 as a part of the library of Francisco de Melo Manuel (1773-1851). Its current binding is of brown leather with gold-tooled decoration.