With painted embellishment on every page, the Hours of Louis de Laval is a masterpiece of French illumination. Created in the 1470s and 1480s in Bourges, it is a Christian prayer book made for Louis de Laval, Lord of Châtillon and confident to kings of France. One of the most richly decorated books of its age, it boasts more than 1,200 miniatures. Of this wealth of vibrant images featuring vivid colors and extensive use of gold, 157 miniatures occupy the entire page.
The manuscript's Latin and French texts include the Hours of the Virgin, the Office of the Dead, the Penitential Psalms, a litany, and texts rarely found in Christian prayer books, such as the Ten Commandments in French.
The extensive decoration was executed in two campaigns. Jean Colombe and his prolific atelier collaborated with the Master of the Yale Missal in the first campaign, which produced miniatures on subjects taken chiefly from the lives of Christ and the saints.
The miniatures' compositions comprise unique arrangements that appear to have never been repeated elsewhere and visual quotations of compositions found in earlier renowned manuscripts, such as Jean Fouquet's Hours of Etienne Chevalier.
The Illustrative Program Enhanced
Colombe returned to the project ten or more years later and supervised the addition of Old Testament scenes to existing pages and the opening sequence of miniatures of Creation (fols. 2v-4v). French-language inscriptions in red or blue on gold backgrounds identify these sometimes-obscure biblical episodes. In this campaign, the opening lines of prayers written in display capitals on many of the fictive frames of the full-page miniatures were rewritten in French Bâtarde in red ink on gold backgrounds.
The fine bâtarde script—a style of writing that had become fashionable for use in prayer books at the time—contributes to the book's elegance, as do the exceptional painted initials and line fillers.
Made for a Knight of the Order of Saint Michael
Jean Colombe enjoyed commissions from society's elite, including this manuscript's patron, Louis de Laval, a leading political figure of the fifteenth century. Louis probably commissioned this massive book of hours when Louis XI, King of France, named him one of the original twelve knights of the Order of Saint Michael. His arms are prominently depicted throughout the manuscript and are complemented by two portraits (fols. 51r and 334v).
Upon Louis's death in 1489, the book was given to Anne of France, the eldest daughter of Louis XI, following the count's wishes. Her coat of arms is found in the manuscript on a page with a contemporary inscription describing the book's genesis and transfer to Anne (fol. 342v). It entered the Bibliothèque nationale (now Bibliothèque nationale de France) from the French royal library.
The morocco red leather binding à la fanfare carries the monogram of King Henry IV, who outfitted the manuscript with another touch of royal splendor while it was in his possession at the end of the sixteenth century.