To mark the Koninklijke Bibliotheek's 200th anniversary, a very special mediaeval Book of Hours was lent to the library for 99 years by SHV Holdings NV, Utrecht, through the intermediation of Paul Fentener van Vlissingen (1941-2006), chairman of the board. The manuscript is very small: the closed book would easily fit in someone's hand. The small format of the book presupposes a quiet, private devotion, as the manuscript is simply too small for two or more people to view it simultaneously. The scale of the manuscript also mandates a very small and delicate kind of painting. The angels in the margins reflect the response of the reader-viewer, who might read the prayer with quietude and sadness.
The manuscript contains very rich illumination, including 27 full-page miniatures, sixteen historiated initials (extra large painted capitals containing an image or scene), and decorated initials with border decoration, and numerous penwork initials. The manuscript might have originally contained fifteen further miniatures, but these were probably cut out by collectors in the nineteenth century. Although we do not know the name of the illuminator, we have constructed his oeuvre based on style, and provisionally named him the Master of Zweder van Culemborg.
The artist was named after a missal he illuminated around 1425, the 'Missal of Zweder van Culemborg,' which is now kept in a library in Italy. This master may have been not a single person, but a group of illuminators working together with a common style in one atelier in Utrecht in the 1430s.
Typical of this Master are the extremely finely painted figures, executed in minute form. In the full-page miniature depicting the Arrest of Christ, which measures just 7.0 x 4.5 cm., the artist has depicted fourteen figures without even making the frame seem crowded. Furthermore, he has painted the event as a night-time scene, with stars in the sky and even a sliver of the moon. He has also used contrast to emphasize the emotional tension in the scene, by pitting the quiet stoicism of Christ at the center against the furious gestures of St Peter next to him. (KR)