Bout Psalter-Hours

Instead of a Book of Hours, which was quite normal in North Holland in the fifteenth century, the Bout family ordered a Psalter-Hours, which is to say that the manuscript contains the Hours of the Virgin Mary and other Hours, but also contains an entire Psalter. This manuscript is the only illuminated example of a Middle Dutch Psalter-Hours that has yet come to light. It combines two different sorts of books that were made for private use in the late Middle Ages. Furthermore, it has a calendar at the beginning and some extra prayers at the end.

Miniaturists from different cities

No fewer than three different miniaturists painted the manuscripts. Although the patrons came from Amsterdam, they did not order their manuscript in their hometown, but rather in Haarlem. Although it would have been easier to have all the miniatures made in Haarlem, the patrons chose to assemble work by painters from another place, in this case, Utrecht. Such a variety within Northern Netherlandish prayer books is quite uncommon.

The contents of the manuscript

Instead of a Book of Hours, which was quite normal in North Holland in the fifteenth century, the Bout family ordered a Psalter-Hours, which is to say that the manuscript contains the Hours of the Virgin Mary and other Hours, but also contains an entire Psalter. This manuscript is the only illuminated example of a Middle Dutch Psalter-Hours that has yet come to light. It combines two different sorts of books that were made for private use in the late Middle Ages. Furthermore, it has a calendar at the beginning and some extra prayers at the end.

Fol. 1r-16v: Calendar and Computational diagrams

The manuscript contains a calendar with saints’ names for each day of the year, which can be used to determine the origin of the manuscript. The most important feast days are written in red ink, including “Sinte aelbrecht confessoir” (St. Albrecht, confessor, 25 June), and “Sinte ieroen” (St. Jerome, 17 August), two saints who were venerated above all in Holland. Moreover, the name of “Sinte bave confessoir” (St. Bavo, confessor) is written in red on 1 October; Bavo is the patron of the main church in Haarlem. It therefore appears that the family lived in Amsterdam but ordered their manuscript in Haarlem, which was Amsterdam’s closest major art centre.

After the calendar there are a few computational tables for calculating the day of Easter. These begin with the year 1453 (“CCCC ende liii”). We can therefore assume that the manuscript was made in 1453.

The last of these tables is a phlebotomy table, where we learn that the constellation Gemini is responsible for shoulders, arms, and hands. Gemini must lie correctly in the sky before bloodletting is performed to cure these body parts.

Fol. 17v-171v: Book of Hours

By the late fourteenth century the Book of Hours had replaced the Psalter as the premier vehicle of lay piety. Books of Hours contain prayers to say at the canonical hours of the day, beginning at matins (about 3 o’clock in the morning). The Bout Psalter-Hours contains the Hours of the Virgin (fol. 18r-44v); the Hours of the Eternal Wisdom (fol. 45-60v); the Long Hours of the Cross (fol. 62r-78v); the Long Hours of the Holy Spirit (fol. 80-96v); the Hours of All Saints (fol. 97r-113r); Prayers for Communion (fol. 113r-115v); a Prayer to God, attributed to Thomas Aquinas (fol. 115v-117r); Suffrages to St Michael, All Angels and a Guardian Angel (fol. 117r-118v); Penitential psalms and Litany (fol. 120r- 134v); the Office of the Dead (fol. 135r-163v); and Prayers for Communion (fol. 164r-171v).

Many of these texts begin with richly colored full-page miniatures, as well as playful and kinetic penwork initials. The images not only set the tone for prayer, but they also make the respective texts easier to find in the book.

Fol. 17v, 18r: Annunciation and opening of the Hours of the Virgin

Fol. 17v, 18r: Annunciation and opening of the Hours of the Virgin

Fol. 44v, 45r: Opening of Hours of Eternal Wisdom

Fol. 44v, 45r: Opening of Hours of Eternal Wisdom

Fol. 61v, 62r: Crucifixion and opening of Hours of the Cross

Fol. 61v, 62r: Crucifixion and opening of Hours of the Cross

Fol. 79v, 80r: Pentecost and opening of the Long Hours of the Holy Spirit

Fol. 79v, 80r: Pentecost and opening of the Long Hours of the Holy Spirit

Fol. 96v, 97r: Opening of the Hours of All Saints

Fol. 96v, 97r: Opening of the Hours of All Saints

Fol. 119v, 120r: The last judgement and the opening of the Penitential psalms

Fol. 119v, 120r: The last judgement and the opening of the Penitential psalms

Fol. 172v: Psalter

A Psalter contains the 150 Psalms, which form part of the Old Testament. Monks and nuns in the early middle Ages recited the entire Psalter weekly, and the Psalter was the main text for lay devotion in the 12th-14th centuries. King David, who reputedly played the harp, was said to have written the Psalter. David is therefore often depicted as an author at the beginning of the text. In Latin the first Psalm begins “Beatus vir” (Blessed is the man..), often with a large decorated B showing David playing the harp. In a French Psalter from around 1175, the B contains an entire concert!

The Bout Psalter-Hours contains a full liturgical Psalter (fol. 173- 307v). Because the manuscript is written in Dutch, the first Psalm begins “Salich is de man” rather than“Beatus vir.” The historiated S depicts David playing his harp in a landscape. Moreover, a full-page miniature shows the most famous story about David: when he was a child, he killed the giant Goliath with his slingshot. The illuminator shows the boy cutting off David’s head. In the background, David appears again, dragging the head behind him from a string.

76 E 11, fol. 2r. Detail: B with David and other musicians

76 E 11, fol. 2r. Detail: B with David and other musicians

Fol. 172v, 173r. Opening of the Psalter

Fol. 172v, 173r. Opening of the Psalter

Detail of fol. 173: David playing his harp in a landscape

Detail of fol. 173: David playing his harp in a landscape

Detail of fol.172v: David dragging the head of Goliath

Detail of fol.172v: David dragging the head of Goliath