Haarlem was a major centre for art production in the fifteenth century. Some of the most important panel painters of the Northern Netherlands, including Albert van Ouwater and Geertgen tot Sint Jans, were active in Haarlem in the middle of the century. The city had approximately 24 convents and religious houses, many of which produced manuscripts. There must have also been many workshops where manuscripts were written and decorated with pen flourishes and miniatures. From Amsterdam, Haarlem was the closest important centre for art, and a logical place for the Bout family to have ordered their manuscript.
The decoration in the Bout Psalter-Hours reveals that it was ordered in Haarlem. This is evident from the so-called “fountain” penwork, that is decoration applied to the vellum with a pen, which can be localized to Haarlem.
Characteristic of North Holland (and Haarlem) penwork are the different colours of ink: orange, purple, green, red, and blue. These are comparable with the penwork in another Book of Hours made in Haarlem in 1457 (KB 131 G 7, fol. 10r). Similar bold and colourful “fountain” pen designs have been added to the Bout manuscript (79 K 11, fol. 248v), although the penwork in the Bout manuscript is more playful. On folio 23v we find the face of a man in the red letter D, and the penwork in the margin terminates in the profile of a bald man. On fol. 89v, a man with a large nose is cramped into a letter G, while colourful penwork erupts into the margin.
At the beginning of the major text divisions are six historiated initials executed by the Masters of the Haarlem Bible, who also painted one of the miniatures, that depicting the Last Judgment (fol. 119v). This painter takes his name from a three-volume Bible which was kept at the Commandery of St. John in Haarlem beginning in the early seventeenth century and is now preserved in the City Library of Haarlem (ms. 187 C1 and 3). The work of this painter can be characterized by its expressive linearity and its bright palette, with a preference for tints of blue, purple, and pink. As with most book illuminators in the Northern Netherlands, several different hands can be distinguished among this corpus of work. One can assume that in such cases a successful artist would take students or family members into his service, who would try to copy the master’s style as closely as possible. The best of these hands, which is also found in the Bible of Commandery of St. John, executed the historiated initials and the miniature in the Bout manuscript.
The initials reveal a great deal of ingenuity. For example, in the initial on fol. 96v, the Master of the Haarlem Bible invents a new form, in which the book’s owner kneels in front of Christ in the letter A, the left side of which is made from a hairy dragon.
Haarlem Stadsbibliotheek 187C 1, fol. 1r. Miniature from the Haarlem Bible
Fol. 18r, initial. Masters of the Harlem Bible, Virgin dressed in the sun
Fol. 80r, initial. Masters of the Harlem Bible, Veronica with the veil
Fol. 97r, initial. Masters of the Harlem Bible, Christ as Salvator Mundi, with owner
Fol. 119v. Masters of the Harlem Bible, Last Judgment
Fol. 120r, initial. Masters of the Harlem Bible, David playing the harp