The Hours of Henry VIII is one of the most elegant Renaissance manuscripts from France. The codex, also known as Libro de Horas de Enrique VIII, was written and illuminated toward the beginning of the 16th century. With its 55 beautifully illustrated miniatures, the manuscript – bearing the name of one of the most intriguing and powerful rulers England ever had – is justly considered Jean Poyer’s masterpiece.
The Hours of Henry VIII: Jean Poyer's Masterpiece
Written in Latin, the Hours of Henry VIII was created in Tours by an artist renowned for his mastering of coloring and perspective, Jean Poyer, active from 1483 to 1503, and one of the most important artists of his time.
Testament to his artistic abilities is the iconographic apparatus which, although not particularly innovative, is certainly very rich. The borders are executed in monochrome tones, highlighted with gold.
The compositions are monumental and his mastering of perspective is put on display in f. 30v, the Annunciation, which features a seamless movement from a defined interior into a neatly outlined garden, to a distant cityscape to a horizon filled with distant hills.
A Personalized Manuscript
Although the contents of the Hours of Henry VIII seem to be quite standard – Calendar, Gospel Lessons, Hours of the Virgin, Hours of the Cross, Hours of the Holy Spirit, Penitential Psalms with Litany, Office of the Dead, and Suffrages – the codex features a selection of additional prayers which the scribes would add on request of the commissioners who wished to further personalize their manuscript.
An Outstanding Example of Gothic Bastarda
The script of the Hours of Henry VIII is a beautiful Gothic bastarda mostly inclined towards the right and featuring pointed descenders, uncial d, and two forms of r and s.
Henry VIII – A Controversial Owner
The life of the manuscript was certainly regal for, as its name suggests, it was owned by Henry VIII of England, second Tudor monarch and best known for his disagreements with his six wives and the pope; furthermore, there is proof that the manuscript belonged to George III (1738-1820).
Unfortunately, like many medieval manuscripts, the Hours of Henry VIII lost its original binding and it now exhibits an 18th century red velvet binding with silver clasps displaying the coat of arms of the English monarch and containing his monogram H.8.R. and his motto Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense.