The manuscript was produced in two main campaigns. The first was initiated in 1376 by Philip the Bold and paid for in 1379, with a few texts and images added in 1390. Philip’s confessor Guillaume de Valen entrusted the production to leading members of the Parisian book trade who also worked for the Duke’s brother, King Charles V of France. The second campaign was completed in 1451 for Philip’s grandson, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (1419-1467), by Flemish scribes and artists. By then the manuscript had become so large that the Duke had it rebound in two volumes. The first one, this volume at the Fitzwilliam Museum, preserves all 150 images of the original campaign and seventeen illuminations added in the 15th century. The second volume, containing only 15th-century images, is in Brussels (Bibliothèque royale de Belgique, MS 11035-37). A portable gallery of French and Flemish paintings, the Grandes Heures showcased the Burgundian Dukes’ art patronage and passion for ostentatious display.
Learn more about the manuscript by exploring the sections below or selecting folios on the right.
Philip the Bold’s accounts reveal the important role of the scribe Jean L’Avenant in the manuscript’s production, but offer no information about the illuminators who supplied some 150 images during the original campaign (1376-1390). Three of them – the Master of the Bible of Jean de Sy, the Master of the Grandes Heures and the Master of the Coronation Book of Charles V – illuminated other manuscripts for members of the French royal family. The images of the first campaign constitute three quarters of the manuscript’s visual content, a substantial proportion of these artists’ total corpus of works and the main focus of the technical analyses whose results are presented here. Sixteen other artists provided the seventeen images added to the Fitzwilliam’s volume during the second campaign (c. 1440-1451). Technical examination of these images awaits future analyses of larger groups of works by these artists preserved in other institutions.
The manuscript was commissioned by Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (1363-1404), in 1376. It was passed on to his son, John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy (1404-1419), and grandson, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (1419-1467). By 1867 it belonged to Mrs W.F. Harvey of Purbrook Heath House, Hampshire. In 1939 it was found in the possession of Mrs Streatfield, wife of the rector of Symondsbury, Dorset, by Sydney Cockerell, former Director of the Fitzwilliam Museum (1908-1937). He brought it to the attention of Lord Lee of Fareham (1868-1947), who purchased it in June 1940 and bequeathed it to the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1947. It was presented by his widow in 1954.
The manuscript contains the texts common to Books of Hours, such as the Hours of the Virgin and the Holy Spirit, the Penitential Psalms, the Office of the Dead and the suffrages (short prayers) to saints. In addition, it includes numerous masses, prayers and hymns normally found in Missals. The involvement of Philip the Good’s confessor, Guillaume de Valen, may account for the transformation of this Book of Hours into a complex and individualised devotional compendium. The original campaign contains one full-page and ten large miniatures accompanied by one historiated initial and ten bas-de-page scenes at major text divisions as well as 128 small miniatures illustrating the Calendar, masses and prayers. The second campaign has one full-page, five large and eleven small miniatures for masses and prayers added in the 15th century. The texts of both campaigns have profuse ornamentation, including initials illuminated in gold and full colours or pen-flourished with exquisite red and blue patterns.
The palette of the illuminations painted during the original campaign is remarkably homogeneous: ultramarine blue, red lead, carbon black, organic pink, brown earths and lead white, the latter used on its own and with other pigments to modify their hues. Vergaut was used for green robes, trees and dark green-grey landscapes. Purple, used sparingly, was obtained by applying an organic red glaze over a thin layer of ultramarine blue.
Two of the four main artists made different choices with regards to yellow and red pigments, which help distinguish their work from that of their colleagues.
Extensive underdrawing in different styles is clearly visible in the near-infrared images of the majority of the illuminations examined. This contributes to the differentiation of individual artists.
The infrared images are particularly clear due to the nature of the specific pigments employed throughout the manuscript, the majority of which are highly transparent in the near-infrared range. The images also allowed the visualisation of a few pentimenti in some of the smaller miniatures and bas-de-page scenes (fols. 24v, 62v).
Annunciation with Philip the Bold’s portrait and arms (Hours of the Virgin, Matins)
The manuscript’s patron, Philip the Bold, is shown in prayer within the historiated initial beneath the Annunciation miniature. The bas-de-page scene preserves faint traces of the arms of Burgundy supported by lions. The images on this page are the only contribution the Master of the Bible of Jean de Sy made to the manuscript. The Annunciation displays the salient features of his work: a balanced composition with spatially conceived architecture; dainty figures, small in proportion to the overall picture space; elegant drapery with peculiar patterns, including cascading serpentine- or pretzel-like hems and deep, V-shaped folds resembling pouches; vigorous, yet courtly gestures; powerful, though controlled facial expressions; carefully blended flesh tones; a sophisticated palette, contrasting bold orange and saturated blue with pastel green, grey, pink and violet; extensive underdrawing; and a subtle painting technique, combining directional strokes with tiny dots.
The application of the red glaze over the gold fleurs-de-lis background is continuous with the shading on the left side of the loggia and emphasizes the three-dimensional effect not simply by means of geometry, but by simulating the play of light and shadow on different surfaces and fabrics.