Lovingly detailed interiors, landscapes extending to the horizon, borders strewn with deceptively realistic flowers and insects – these are just some of the achievements in painting that characterize fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Flemish book illumination. An especially beautiful example of this artistic perfection is the Flemish Book of Hours of Marie de Medici. Featuring three full-sized illuminations similar to paintings, 42 full-page miniatures, historiated or golden initials, and borders covered in Flemish or Italianate flowers or architecture on every page of text, the Flemish Book of Hours of Marie de Medici has 176 pages measuring 20.4 × 13.7 cm, each one with unusually luxurious illuminations.
The Master of the David Scenes in the Grimani Breviary – A Brilliant Illuminator at the Apex of His Career
The Flemish Book of Hours of Marie de Medici was probably commissioned by a wealthy female patron in Ghent or Bruges and produced between 1515 and 1520 by an anonymous artist known today simply as the "Master of the David Scenes in the Grimani Breviary" The David Master was one of the great Flemish masters and is mentioned in company with Gerard Horenbout and Simon Bening. The David Master was at the apex of his career and artistic maturity when he began working on the Flemish Book of Hours of Marie de Medici, and it is one of the most elaborately ornamented works ever to come out of his studio. In each and every one of the miniatures, the reader can see that the illuminator took great pleasure in telling and depicting stories. Dynamic compositions and a brilliant palette characterize his style. Another outstanding hallmark of his art is his love for architecture: all of the details in the master’s pictures of city streets and squares are faithfully rendered, permitting us to see inside late Gothic churches, studios, and private chambers. In order to be able to tell as much of the story as possible, and not simply illustrate the main miniature’s given theme, the David Master created detailed, refined architectural structures, turning the main image and its borders into an apparently unified space. He then composed other biblical or legendary stories like genre scenes, relating them to the main miniature.
The Ghent-Bruges School: A Unique Golden Age in the Late Period of European Manuscript
Illumination All of Europe admired and desired illuminations from the Ghent-Bruges School. Each of the continent’s cultural capitals was supplied with their splendidly illustrated books of hours, and this, at a time when the printed book had already celebrated its victory over the handwritten manuscript. In what had been the leading centers of manuscript illumination, the number of handwritten manuscripts produced had gradually declined. However, in Burgundian-influenced Flanders a new, and ultimately, the last-flowering of manuscript illustration began, and in the ensuing decades, the school enjoyed great fame, not only in its own region, but throughout Europe. With perfect mastery over the depiction of spatial perspective, two-dimensional book pages were turned into three-dimensional spaces, which take us straight into the houses or landscapes. Accompanying this is the kind of specifically Dutch realism, in which the illuminators – despite the small format of their works – were as skilled as the famous masters of Old Netherlandish panel painting. In addition, the enormous demand for pictures challenged the creativity of the illuminators, who continually sought to trump each other with fresh iconographical and compositional creations. The innovative type of border, strewn with flowers and insects, opened up an entirely new spectrum of playful trompe l’oeil, whose charm can hardly escape the viewer’s notice.
The Book of Hours – the Most Popular Type of Book in the Middle Ages
Around the turn of the fifteenth century, when the production of private devotionals became a specialty of the Ghent-Bruges illuminators, the book of hours had already been a very popular type for almost two centuries. The term "book of hours" is derived from the practice of offering up certain prayers at fixed hours of the day and night. At first, the psalter served as a private prayer book. However, additional texts soon joined the 150 psalms of a psalter. From then on, the heart of the book was formed by the Little Office of Our Lady, various excerpts from the four gospels, the Hours of the Cross, the seven Penitential Psalms, an Office for the Dead, and a Litany of the Saints. In terms of individual texts and images, however, there were practically no limits to what the purchaser of the book could request.
Flanders - Cologne - England: Tracing an Exciting Path across the Centuries
This book of hours owes its current name to someone who was probably one of the later owners, the French queen, Marie de Medici (1573-1642), widow of the popular King Henri IV. As one of the powers behind the unsuccessful conspiracy against Cardinal Richelieu, Marie had to leave France in 1631, at the behest of her son, Louis XIII. She went into exile in Brussels, where she may have acquired the enchanting illuminated manuscript, before finally moving to Cologne to live out her last years; she died in 1642 in the home of the painter, Peter Paul Rubens, whom she patronized and admired. An inscription in English on the inside page of the front cover states that she left the book of hours in Cologne. It is there that an English manuscript collector, Francis Douce, may have acquired the book. At any rate, the Flemish Book of Hours of Marie de Medici was in his collection when it was donated to the world-famous Bodleian Library in Oxford in 1834.
Strong, Glowing Colors and Delicately Shimmering Gold
Marie de Medici was probably as fascinated by the interplay of the carefully harmonized, glowing colours of the miniatures in her book of hours, as we are today. The unusually intense, brilliant powdered gold lends the pages an additional loveliness. Not only is this gold dust background perfect for showcasing the famous Flemish borders strewn with flowers, which appear on every page of the manuscript, but some of the robes and frames of the miniatures are also highlighted in gold, intensifying the effect of the delicate glow on every page.
Silver, velvet, and silk
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Flemish Book of Hours of Marie de Medici": Das Flämische Stundenbuch der Maria von Medici facsimile edition, published by Quaternio Verlag Luzern, 2011