Leaves from the Hours of Albrecht of Brandenburg

Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg


Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg (1490-1545), Archbishop and Elector of Mainz, was an important political and ecclesiastical figure, a friend of Erasmus and an opponent of Martin Luther. He was also one of the most active art patrons of his day. Painters who completed commissions for him include Albrecht Dürer, Mattias Grünewald and Lucas Cranach the Elder who painted his portrait. The Book of Hours from which these leaves were taken, is the earliest of three manuscripts illuminated for him by Simon Bening. The main body of the book is in a private collection, but miniatures removed from it are dispersed across various institutions, including the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The other two manuscripts which Simon Bening illuminated for the Cardinal are his Prayerbook of c. 1525-1530 (Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, MS Ludwig IX 9) and another Book of Hours of c. 1530-1535 (Stockholm, Kungliga Bibliotheket, MS A.227).

Borne aloft by eight angels with multicoloured wings, the crowned Virgin Mary rises above a mountainous landscape rendered in hazy shades of blue and green. Bening took his inspiration for this composition from a miniature painted by the Vienna Master of Mary of Burgundy, an inventive Flemish illuminator who was active from about 1470 to 1480. Although Bening designed the image, most of the painting was probably assigned to an assistant.

The 'trompe-l'œil' border, decorated with rosaries, offers a dramatic close up in contrast to the receding image of the central panel. Some of the rosaries are attached to finger rings and others to swags of foliage.