The Mirandola Stundenbuch, also known as the Mirandola Hours is one the most beautifully made book of hours produced in the Italian peninsula. With its 4 full-page miniatures, 14 small miniatures and 6 historiated initials, this codex is a superb example of the Renaissance illumination production. The manuscript was created at the end of the 15th century either in Mantua or Ferrara and it was likely illuminated by Giovanni Francesco Maineri who, at the time, worked in the area.
Written in Latin, the Mirandola Hours contains a calendar (showing a Franciscan influence), the Hours of the Virgin, the Penitential Psalms and Litany, the Little Hours of the Cross, and the Office of the Dead. Produced between 1490 and 1499, it takes its name after the town of Mirandola, home of the Pico family.
Variety of Historiated Initials
The manuscript iconography shows exquisite taste in the choice of colors and in the variety of the ornaments, for, some letters are decorated with a scenic background while others have a simple but elegant gold foliage.
The large historiated initials usually occupy 6 lines: some are created in gold with a blue ground, all depicting a gold stylised figure of David engaged in different actions (ex. fol. 91v., fol. 96r.), others are represented in more detail, with the colored and detailed figures occupying the tendrils of the gilded letter.
The borders of the pages that bare the historiated initials and the small square miniatures, are decorated with standards with flaming cressets, often accompanied in the bas-de-page by drawings of animals such as birds or stags (ex. fol. 37v and 40v.).
Giovanni Francesco Maineri and the School of Ferrara
The 4 full-page miniatures mark the division of the four main sections. In the Office of the Dead miniature (fol. 85r.), Death is represented as a skeleton wearing a sash-like garment and carrying a scythe, the title and the first lines are contained in two scrolls which almost act as a frame to the depiction.
This feature is repeated in all full-page miniatures which show several elements in great detail, some of them are depicted within the decorated borders bearing ornaments related to the central picture, i.e. in the Office of the dead bones and snakes are strictly related to Death. In the Office of the Virgin, the miniature is developed to the very border of the page, whereas for the Penitential Psalms, David is framed by an arch-like frame.
All miniatures show an indulging use of gold, for the ornaments, for the details of drapery and garments, and for the background. The artist shows great appreciation for and skilled application of bright vivid colors, mainly blue and red, but also green and purple.
The result is a vividly colored manuscript throughout, with the alternating and/or combination of bright colors and shimmering gold.The artist of such refined work has been identified as Giovanni Francesco Maineri (c. 1460-1506), who worked at the Este court, and possibly influenced by the School of Ferrara.
Beautiful Example of Littera Humanistica Rotunda
The Mirandola Stundenbuch is a beautiful example of humanistic script (littera humanistica) also known as rotunda or antiqua. Poggio Bracciolini along with other scholars had adopted and redesigned it at the beginning of the 15th century, resulting in an improved and clearer version of the caroline minuscule. In this script there is a decrease of ligatures and a very limited presence of abbreviations, descenders do not extend below the baseline, as the long s shows.
Galeotto I Pico della Mirandola
As the name of the manuscript suggests the commissioner and owner must have been someone from the area of Mirandola, and this assumption is confirmed by the coat of arms depicted on fol. 13r.
Specifically, this coat of arms belonged to Galeotto I Pico della Mirandola – brother of Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, the renown philosopher – and his wife Bianca d'Este, illegitimate daughter of Niccolo III d'Este.