The Hours of Benedict XIV is a compelling example of Flemish artists creating a unique book for the burgeoning international book market at the turn of the sixteenth century. Made around 1500 in Ghent or Bruges, this manuscript, illuminated by an artist or artists known as the Master of the Prayer Books of around 1500 (or Prayer Books Master), highlights English patronage of Flemish illumination. Much later in its history, it became a personal prayer book of Prospero Lambertini (1675-1758), who served as Pope Benedict XIV. The book is illuminated with nine full-page miniatures and numerous smaller miniatures painted in a vibrant palette and infused with shimmering gold.
The Prayer Books Master is known not only for accomplished work in Christian prayer books—including the Hours of Isabella the Catholic, the Rothschild Hours, and this book—but also for making important contributions to the illumination of secular texts.
Dramatic Narrative Scenes and Framing
Powerful half-length depictions of female saints and narrative scenes, which include the Raising of Lazarus (fol. 108v), comprise the book's largest miniatures, most of which are framed by majestic illusionistic strewn-flower borders that harmonize with the border of the facing page.
The borders for the beginning of the Hours of the Virgin are the exception (fols. 15v-16r). The text is preceded by a full-page miniature of the Annunciation, and the borders are inhabited by a dazzling Tree of Jesse, a visualization of the genealogy of Christ. The branches of this family tree wind through the entirety of the opening and provide thematic dialogue with the masterful miniature.
Flemish Illumination for an English Owner
The Latin text is written in an elegant Gothic book hand. Upon opening the book, one is greeted with a calendar embellished with the labors of the month and the signs of the zodiac in three-quarter borders with gold grounds. Those borders also serve as home to flowers and insects that appear to have been strewn on the surface of the page. The book's text proper includes the Hours of the Virgin, the Penitential Psalms and the Office of the Dead, as well as other devotional texts.
The Hours of the Virgin are in the version according to the Use of Sarum (Salisbury, England) and a suffrage (a short prayer formula) to Saint Thomas Becket, sure signs that the book was intended for an English client. The suffrage to Becket is introduced by a full-page miniature of the saint's martyrdom (fol. 82v), giving it special prominence.
The Personal Prayer Book of a Scholar Pope
It is unknown how the manuscript came into the possession of Pope Benedict XIV, a native of Bologna who was elected pope in 1740. In 1755, he bequeathed his collection of more than 25,000 books to the Istituto delle Scienze of his hometown, along with his personal archives, a fitting testament to his bibliophilic passions. The institute became part of the University of Bologna in 1803, and the manuscript is now housed in the university's library.
The front cover of the manuscript's current binding of leather with gilt, silver, and colored tooling is dominated by Benedict's papal coat of arms.
We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Hours of Benedict XIV": Offiziolo di Benedetto XIV facsimile edition, published by Imago, 2019Request Info / Price