Mary Stuart is a dramatic historical figure. Queen of Scotland (1542-67), she was dethroned and fled to England where she had ambitions to succeed Elisabeth I on the throne of England. With the help of Catholic Mary and other supporters, Mary Stuart plotted against Queen Elisabeth I. Mary Stuart was imprisoned and eventually beheaded in 1587.
The Book of Hours kept in the Biblioteca Classense is of exceptional value as it may have belonged to her; indeed, the inscription “Mary Stuart Queen of Scotland” identifies the manuscript as Mary’s personal property. Mary’s father, who was born in Ravenna, brought the book of hours to Italy where it is still preserved.
The Flemish Decoration of the Hours of Mary Stuart
The opening seven pages of the manuscript represent the traditional theme of the months of the years along with the corresponding signs of the zodiac. 18 full-page miniatures mark the main sections of the Hours and show a style of Flemish origin.
Probably made in Bruges or Ghent, the illuminations display the main scenes with trompe l’oeil ornamental borders. Flowers, insects, fruits, birds and animals embellish the hours with a rich decorative program.
The Hours of Mary Stuart and the Variety of Landscapes and Urban Settings
Portraits of Christ, the Virgin and other figures in the religious scenes throughout the manuscript remind of works made by Hugo van der Goes, Hans Memling and Jan van der Eyck.
Bright colors characterize the miniatures, which are constructed with remarkable perspectival effects. Backgrounds and landscapes show a variety of settings. The illuminator was especially careful in rendering the smallest details.
One can appreciate the precision of his painting in the series of miniatures illustrating the calendar, where activities of everyday life appear on the foreground of delicate urban and rural settings.