Haarlem Book of Hours

Acquired with financial support from various foundations from Antiquariaat Forum,'t Goy-Houten
Acquisition: 1996
Date: Ca. 1445-1450
Size: 14 x 9 cm.
Call number: 79 K 1

A medieval Book of Hours is a manuscript that private individuals used as a reference for devotion, particularly during prayer. The manuscript often contained a calendar and a fixed collection of verses. The miniatures were made in Haarlem, 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. The miniatures in this manuscript were produced by the Masters of the Haarlem Bible, a group of painters who get their 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.
The images of this manuscript are all painted on loose leaves and inserted into the book. Probably, when the manuscript was rebound in the seventeenth century, the images were placed in the wrong positions. This image depicting Pentecost, for example, should preface the Hours of the Holy Spirit, but instead it appears opposite the beginning of the Long Hours of the Cross, a text usually introduced with an image of Christ on the Cross.

What is extraordinary about this manuscript is that flowers and butterflies are painted with exacting detail to nature in the margins, directly on the vellum, in a manner that departs starkly from previous decorative images of flora and fauna. In this opening, the painter has rendered a butterfly in such a way that it looks as if the tiny beast has just alighted on the page.
The miniature of Pentecost, which covers the entire page, shows Mary sitting at the centre, while the apostles sit around her, some of them demarcated by their plate-like haloes. Their excitement is barely containable: they are so animated that they can barely be contained by the frame: the balding head of St Peter (at the right) slips out the frame, as he tips his chair back to throw his arms heavenward. The rays of gold emanating from the top of the image further animate the image. (KR)