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The Hours of Bonaparte Ghislieri is named for the probable patron and original owner of this exquisite Book of Hours. A product of several master artisans of the Italian Renaissance, the manuscript was created in the years around 1500 in northern Italy, probably Bologna. The Latin text of the Hours of the Virgin and Holy Spirit is an immaculate Humanistic hand with gilded and colorful initials as well as trompe l’oeil floral borders, line fillers of fine gold scrollwork on bright fields of red, blue, and green, and gold lettering throughout.

This exceptional book, once known as the Albani Hours, features four full-page illuminations by some of the most remarkable artists of the late fifteenth century including Amico Aspertini and Perugio as well as twelve portraits of saints and fifteen large historiated initials with incredible floral and antique frames. Its ownership by a series of famous collectors confirms its status as one of the most magnificent Books of Hours. It is difficult to surpass the quality and luxury of this beautiful manuscript.

Lavish Renaissance Prayer Books as Art Galleries

It would be nearly two centuries before the first public museum would open, but the appetite for collecting and admiring artwork did not begin with the first museum. During the Renaissance, art collections were private so one way to enjoy a painter’s work was through small-format paintings like those in Books of Hours.

Calendar illuminations, elaborate initials, and iconic depictions of saints provided the ideal context for extensive and detailed pictures that could be carried and shared like a miniature gallery.

Full-Page Miniatures from Old Masters

A number of masters of the early Italian Renaissance contributed work to this Book of Hours. Amico Aspertini signed the full-page miniature of the Adoration of the Shepherds on fol. 15v.

The miniature of St. Sebastian on folio 132v (now kept separately as Yates Thompson 29, fol. 132) is signed by Pietro de Cristoforo Vannucci, known as Perugino, the instructor of Raphael Sanzio da Urbino.

Matteo da Milano painted the miniature on folio 74v, all historiated initials, and the calendar roundels of saints. Additional work is attributed to Mariano del Buono.The beautiful Humanist script by Pierantonio Sallando is also of exceptional quality.

A Jewel of Several Famous Collections

This particular manuscript was likely commissioned by Bonaparte Ghislieri, a senator of Bologna, based on the customization of portraiture and coats of arms. In the eighteenth century, it belonged to Cardinal Giuseppe Albani.

It was purchased by collector and dealer James Dennistoun from his heirs and sold to Bertram Ashburnham for his private manuscript library in 1847. Henry Yates Thompson purchased it from the Ashburnham Estate sale of 1897. It was bequeathed to the British Museum with the rest of his library in 1941.

Binding description

While not the original binding, the current cover features cut leather, green and blue silk with gold paper and painted miniatures of the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Annunciate.

Inside, the boards are embossed with gilt medallions of Julius Caesar. Metalwork includes filigree corner pieces and silver clasps. It is of Italian originBaroque in style, and probably dates to 1650-1750.

We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Hours of Bonaparte Ghislieri": Il Libro d'Ore di Bonaparte Ghislieri facsimile edition, published by Franco Cosimo Panini Editore, 2007

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Manuscript book description compiled by Amy R. Miller.
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Il Libro d'Ore di Bonaparte Ghislieri

Modena: Franco Cosimo Panini Editore, 2007

  • Commentary (Italian) by Benevolo, Giancarlo; Kidd, Peter; Medica, Massimo
  • Limited Edition: 980 copies
  • Full-size color reproduction of the entire original document, Hours of Bonaparte Ghislieri: the facsimile attempts to replicate the look-and-feel and physical features of the original document; pages are trimmed according to the original format; the binding might not be consistent with the current document binding.

Binding

Morocco binding adorned with silver and enamel work and semi-precious stones.

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