Book of Hours of Simon de Varie

The Koninklijke Bibliotheek has a large collection of late medieval books of hours, prayer books for the personal use of laymen, that are often beautifully illuminated. One of the most beautiful examples is the Book of Hours of Simon de Varie.  

Click on the link to see the digitized book, part 1:

Click on the link to see the digitized book, part 2:

The illuminations in the manuscript are largely by artists whose identity is unknown. They are therefore referred to by a name that is derived from their work. The Book of Hours of Simon de Varie contains work by the ‘Master of Jean Rolin II’ and by the ‘ Master of the Dunois Book of Hours’. A small number of illuminations, however, were made by the French painter Jean Fouquet (c.1420-c.1478/81), who is commonly considered the most important French painter of the fifteenth century. Especially the Madonna with Christ in the second volume is a masterpiece: Fouquet has draped Mary’ veil across the head of Christ, creating an intimate atmosphere. Also, Jesus’ hand is on the edge of the border, a trompe l’oeil that suggests depth.  

This manuscript has known a turbulent history. In the seventeenth century the then owner, Philippe de Béthune, had the manuscript divided into three parts. One of them (74 G 37) ended up in the library of Stadtholder Willen IV and his heirs and was transferred to the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in 1816; the second part was acquired by the library in 1890 from an antiquarian bookseller in Frankfurt am Main. The third part surfaced in 1983 at an antiquarian bookseller in San Francisco; it is now in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu (Ms. 7). Until the third part was found, it was not clear who commissioned the book of hours. At the beginning of the Getty volume, however, there is an image of a man in armour and a red tunic under a motto, ‘Vie a mon desir’. Research by François Avril has shown that this is the commissioner – ‘Vie a mon desir’ being an anagram of ‘Simon de Varie’. 

De Varie was the son of a wealthy textile merchant from Bourges. He did not have a brilliant career, contrary to his brother Guillaume, who despite being involved in a notorious fraud scandal, became minister of finance for Languedoc in later life. The few sources that mentions Simon give the impression that he joined in with Guillaume’s success. In the end, he became comptroller of extraordinary revenues in Languedoc; de died after April 1463, probably unmarried and without offspring. 

The illuminations in the manuscript are largely by artists whose identity is unknown. They are therefore referred to by a name that is derived from their work. The Book of Hours of Simon de Varie contains work by the ‘Master of Jean Rolin II’ and by the ‘Master of the Dunois Book of Hours’. A small number of illuminations, however, were made by the French painter Jean Fouquet (c.1420-c.1478/81), who is commonly considered the most important French painter of the fifteenth century. Especially the Madonna with Christ in the second volume is a masterpiece: Fouquet has draped Mary’s veil across the head of Christ, creating an intimate atmosphere. Also, Jesus’ hand is on the edge of the border, a trompe l’oeil that suggests depth.

Literature

James H. Marrow et al., The hours of Simon de Varie. Malibu [etc.] : J. Paul Getty Museum [etc.], 1994. (Getty Museum monographs on illuminated manuscripts ; 3 ). XI, 255 p., [1] vouwbl. : ill., facs. ; 21 cm.
J.H. Marrow, ‘Miniatures inédites de Jean Fouquet: Les heures de Simon de Varie’. In: *Revue de l’art* 67 (1985), p. 3-28
W. van Drimmelen et al. (red.), Honderd hoogtepunten uit de Koninklijke Bibliotheek = A hundred highlights from the Koninklijke Bibliotheek. Zwolle, Waanders, cop. 1994, nr. 13.