Among the several dozen French books of hours kept in the Moscow collections, the Moskauer Stundenbuch is one of the most magnificent. It was decorated in 1470s Paris and, judging by the coat of arms, its patron was a personality of high rank. On one of the leaves of the Book of Hours is a praying patron on a kneeling stool; symbols of wealth and nobility are a recurring theme in the miniatures.
Unfortunately, both crest and motto are scraped off – it often happened that the subsequent owner of a manuscript wanted to erase all memories of its predecessor. Hence, the name of the patron of the Moscow Book of Hours is not yet determined.
The Tormented Past of the Moskauer Stundenbuch's Shimmering Miniatures
Each part of the Moscow Book of Hours contains a large miniature cycle, for a total of seventeen. Unfortunately, twelve miniatures have gone missing – including the "Adoration of the Magi" and the "Flight into Egypt" from the Office of Mary, almost all of the Passion cycle, the Office of the Dead and some suffrage miniatures.
It is conceivable that Western collectors recklessly removed the relevant pages in the 19th century, a time when collections of medieval art and book miniatures had become fashionable in Western Europe. Fortunately, the manuscript still contains 24 large miniatures, 24 illustrations (calendar) and is provided with 173 pages of exquisitely decorated edge.
At least two painters were involved in the creation of the Moskauer Stundenbuch: landscapes and interior scenes prove that both Masters had certainly been influenced by the Coëtivy Master, one of the leading Parisian book painters of his time, known for his close relation to Dutch painters.
It can be assumed that, just like any other painting studio, the workshop of Master A and B had at its disposal a variety of drawings and templates such as the Master of Dreux Budé, and the selection of these sample sheets was so large to possibly contain also Bedford Master's templates. Both may have played an important role as pictorial influences of the Moskauer Stundenbuch Masters.
In the French book illumination of the 15th century, the narrative illustration usually takes up most of the book page. Below the image are usually some initial lines of the text, which was also decorated.
The fleuronnée initials shimmer with gold and colors, and are filled with plant ornamentation; the white space at the end of the lines is filled, according to tradition, with line fillers of red, blue, and gold ornament. Framing both miniatures and text are the scatter borders (typical of this age) decorated with naturalistically rendered flora and fauna.
Moving from the Coëtivy Master to the Dutch Influence
The miniature of "Mark the Evangelist" (fol. 24) shows a further re-interpretation of the architectural design that the Masters have taken over from their teacher. Here, the scenes are consciously extended by architectures with a great number of people.
Such complicated architectural forms were very popular, especially with Rogier van der Weyden and the Dutch masters. As for the few landscape scenes of the Moskauer Stundenbuch, there are motifs from the repertoire of the Coëtivy Master, such as the meadows of broad valleys filling the miniatures’ background.
Landscapes and settings show a Dutch influence with its eye to detail and bucolic-like scenes – examples are the "Visitation" (fol. 59), and "Lukas paints the Madonna" (fol. 19v). The Dutch innovation in European painting is present for instance in the miniature "Annunciation” (fol. 37), where the meeting of the Virgin Mary with the heavenly messengers takes place in the home of Mary and Joseph, instead of a church.
Another pictorial influence can be detected in the night scene of "Christ on the Mount of Olives” (fol. 209) where Jerusalem appears similar to a medieval French town according to Parisian book illumination. The artist disengages from tradition choosing not to represent the cup of suffering next to Jesus, but having it handed to him by an angel, thus following the words of the Evangelist Luke: "Then an angel from heaven appeared and gave him (new) power" (Lk. 22.43).
An Instance of Marvelous Golden Gothic Script
The Moscow Book of Hours is a fine specimen of Gothic script. The text features the typical abbreviations of the script. The letter f extends slightly below the baseline. Its sister letter s is present in two forms: round s mainly used at the end of the word, and straight s – sometimes descending below the baseline – used at the beginning of the words.
The latter, made in no more than two strokes, takes less space than normal round s. Minims are not given a diamond-shape serif at neither the headline nor the baseline. The manuscript features a specific form of the “Rücken” -g (g with a back), in which the two vertical strokes make the upper lobe cross the upper horizontal stroke (fol. 77v). The lower lobe is left open as it lacks a closing hairline. This form betrays a cursive influence.