The Livre d’Heures de Maria Stuart is one of the smallest book of hours known, and one of the most beautiful examples of Northern Renaissance illumination from the center-west of France. The codex was written and illuminated in the first quarter of the 16th century in the town of Tours. With its 14 beautifully illuminated full-page miniatures and more than 1300 golden initials, the Livre d’heures de Maria Stuart is a superb example of the marvelous production of the School of Rouen.
The codex, created between 1510 and 1515, takes its name from Mary Stuart (1542-1587), Queen of Scots, who inherited it following her husband's death.
Illuminated Miniatures Framed by Foliate Borders
The iconography and decoration of the manuscript are stunningly made. Every page contains 21 lines of text, which features countless golden initials on colored background, and framed foliate bar borders in paneled form, with sprouting flowers and insects.
The border decoration contains beautifully depicted dolphins and elaborated candelabra-like structures. The manuscript presents 14 miniatures depicted using the gold paintbrush technique in a context of landscape or detailed interior.
Alternatively, the borders are often decorated with dolphins and candelabras. The miniatures depict popular episodes from the life of Christ, ranging from the birth of the Savior in the stable to his death on the cross.
Commissioned by Francis I, King of France
Among the smallest prayer books known to date, the book of hours of Mary Stuart was commissioned by Francis I to his future wife, Princess Claude, daughter of Anne of Brittany. Queen of Scotland and France, Mary Stuart inherited it upon her marriage with Francis II, grand-son of Claude.
The manuscript was subsequently transmitted among high lineage princesses, who traveled in Scotland, England, and France. In 1837, Marie d'Orléans brought it to Württemberg on the occasion of her wedding to Alexander, Duke of Württemberg.
A Beautiful Example of Humanistic Script
The script of the Livre d’heures de Maria Stuart is an example of 15th-century humanistic script (littera humanistica rotunda). Handsomely simple in its appearance, it was favored in contrast to the Gothic script. In an attempt to restore clarity, the littera humanistica antiqua or rotunda, features fewer abbreviations, but several ligatures, and descenders do not extend below the baseline (ex. long s).
Unfortunately, the Livre d’heures de Maria Stuart lost its original binding. The current binding is a Parisian work in the style of Frosset's workshop from the time around 1625. The binding features, two silver clasps attached to soft brown leather featuring gold tooling in à la fanfare style.