Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Vat. lat. 3768

Vatican Library Book of Hours Facsimile Edition

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The Vatican Library Book of Hours is the final part of a three-volume psalter-hours, a book designed for use in private Christian devotions by the laity. Made around 1500 in Ghent, the volume features five full-page and thirteen smaller miniatures. Every page boasts an illuminated border painted in the same vivid colors and elegant shell gold found in the miniatures, all the work of Gerard Horenbout. The richness of the visual program is particularly evident in this volume, wherein a full-page miniature introduces each of the services of the Office of the Dead.

The books known as psalter-hours embrace the usual contents of the contemporary book of hours and the complete text of the biblical psalms. They were no longer popular by 1500 and never in Flanders, making the book of which the present manuscript was a part a curiosity.

A Pictorial Cycle by Gerard Horenbout   

The illumination of the Vatican codex is attributed to Gerard Horenbout, court painter to Margaret of Austria. This master, also called the Master of James IV of Scotland in scholarly literature, was one of the most talented and prominent illuminators active in Flanders in the decades around 1500. Together with Horenbout's contributions to the two sister volumes, the Vatican Library Book of Hours constitutes the largest pictorial cycle of the prolific painter.

A Psalter-Hours of More than 1,000 Pages

The parent psalter-hours of which this volume forms the final part was split into three volumes by the sixteenth century. The first of these, known as the Book of Hours of Horenbout, begins with a calendar and contains the psalms and the Hours of the Virgin. The second volume (Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Vat. lat. 3769) includes an unusual selection of hours and prayers.

The third and final portion of the original psalter-hours, the present volume, includes the Office of the Dead, two series of excerpts from the book of Psalms, prayers, and an extensive section of suffrages (short prayers for intercession addressed to individual saints).

Ghent-Bruges Borders

The text, written in a fine Gothic Textualis, features an abundance of large, decorated initials throughout. The characteristic Ghent-Bruges borders—renowned for their illusionistic assemblages of flowers—are very similar to those found in the Book of Hours of James IV.

A Patron or Patrons Depicted

The manuscript's patron remains unknown. It appears that the book might have been made for a man, as one is depicted three times in this volume alone. In one miniature, he is shown making his confession, while a woman, her back to the viewer, kneels nearby (fol. 51v)

Conflicting Clues about Patronage

The cycle of images dedicated to King David in one of the sister volumes might be an important clue, as rulers strongly identified with the Old Testament king. However, if the patron or intended recipient is indeed the man depicted in the third volume, it is worth noting that he lacks royal regalia.

A coat of arms in the miniature depicting the Mass for the Dead (fol. 18v) has been identified as that of Jan van Palland and Anna van Culemborg. These arms, however, were painted on top of another coat of arms. The rubrics use the term cursus to mean office, a typically German feature. Lastly, the suffrages have a marked focus on northern Dutch and Rhineland saints, thus suggesting an orientation along the lower Rhine.

We have 1 facsimile edition of the manuscript "Vatican Library Book of Hours": Libro de oraciones del final de la Edad Media facsimile edition, published by Testimonio Compañía Editorial, 2009

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Manuscript book description compiled by Erene Rafik Morcos.
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Libro de oraciones del final de la Edad Media

Madrid: Testimonio Compañía Editorial, 2009

  • Commentary (Spanish) by Mijía, Cardinal Jorge
  • Limited Edition: 980 copies
  • Full-size color reproduction of the entire original document, Vatican Library Book of Hours: the facsimile attempts to replicate the look-and-feel and physical features of the original document; pages are trimmed according to the original format; the binding might not be consistent with the current document binding.


Full leather with generous blind stamping.

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