The Book of Hours of Charles VIII is one of the most lavish examples of Renaissance book production from France, specifically Paris. The incunable, also known as Libro de Horas de Carlos VIII, was published and illuminated in the late fifteenth century and features 190 small format miniatures, over 200 decorated marginal borders, and forty-four full-page miniatures. The book is justly considered a masterpiece of the Renaissance.
The Book of Hours of Charles VIII and Antoine Verard
The incunable – written in Latin – represents one of the earliest and finest examples of the work of the Parisian publishers, Antoine Verard, who, adapting to the changes of his times, decided to combine miniatures and printed books, producing book editions that featured handmade illuminations.
Narrative Borders and the Use of Vernacular
Accompanying the text, which resembles a rounded Gothic script, are the narrative borders – one of the most striking features of the Book of Hours of Charles VIII. Indeed, every page bears a lateral border displaying two images and a few French verses for a total of 181 border texts.
Although the Book of Hours of Charles VIII is certainly not the only one with this kind of border, it is, however, one of earliest and most elaborate examples featuring such an extensive use of vernacular.
Even more striking is the fact that texts are unique, as they have not been identified with any other source, leading to suggest that all 181 border texts were created specifically for this incunable. This would not come as a surprise if we take into account that the work was made for Charles VIII, King of France (1470-1498).
The Master of Jacques of Besançon
While there is still no certainty regarding the identity of the scribe of the border texts, there seems to be no doubt about the artist behind the iconography of the work, who is the Master of Jacques of Besançon.
The Master of Jacques of Besançon, identified as François Barbier, seems to have painted all the miniatures with the exception of the head of the ruler on fol. 13v which was retouched at a later date to resemble the portrait of Louis XII.
A Treasure of the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid
Currently treasured in the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid, the life of the Hours of Charles VIII seems to be accounted for from about a century after its production. Indeed, it appears that Louis XIII, King of France (1601-1643), gave this codex as a gift to a Spanish figure, the ambassador of France or the confessor of Queen Anne of Austria.
It later belonged to a count of Peñaranda and a marquis of Mejorada, before finally joining the collection of the National Library in 1708.