One of the most exuberant Northern Netherlandish manuscripts from the second half of the fifteenth century is this Book of Hours, illuminated by the Master of the Boston City of God. This master, who was active in Utrecht in the sixties and seventies, derived his name from the decoration of a copy of St. Augustine's De Civitate Dei, now in the Boston Public Library. He illuminated about twenty manuscripts, of which the Hague manuscript is beyond doubt his most striking achievement. It contains seven full-page miniatures and 28 historiated initials on text pages, all accompanied by opulent decorated borders. The miniatures illustrating the story of the Passion of Christ are especially remarkable because of their monumental, linear character. To achieve this the painter used the compositions of a series of prints by the Master E.S., an engraver working in the Rhineland between 1450 and 1467. Such copying from woodcuts and engravings was common practice among Northern Netherlandish illuminators in the second half of the fifteenth century.
The Boston Master strengthened the outlines of his figures by offsetting them against large areas of pounced gold. On the Descent from the Cross reproduced here he used a wide horizontal band in the background, and surrounded the whole miniature by a gold band. Another remarkable feature of his style is the horror vacui, the filling up of the whole available space, which creates a dense and overcrowded impression. This is particularly noticeable in the borders, which are by far the most extraordinary feature of the manuscript. The nervously curling, brightly coloured acanthus leaves have been studded with strange elements like mussels, butterflies, half-opened walnuts and insects, lending a somewhat bizarre character to the illustration.
The manuscript is one of more than a hundred manuscripts purchased at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century during the librarianship of W.G.C. Byvanck.
Book of Hours. Utrecht, c. 1470. Vellum, 265 leaves, 170 x 135 mm. Provenance: auction of the W.J. Royaards van den Ham collection, 1899. - 131 G 4, fol. 69v