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South Netherlands Book of Hours (View Images)

The Hawley Hours (Misc. Ms. 146): A Fine Illuminated South Netherlands Book of Hours

BOOK of HOURS, in the Dutch translation ascribed to Gerardus Groot (Gerdde Groot).

Illuminated Manuscript written on finely prepared vellum in an excellent upright Dutch liturgical script, 18 lines to the page set on rules in brown ink. Written on 177 leaves in single column, most pricking preserved at extreme margins; the collation has proven very difficult to work out due to the tightness of the rebacking of the binding, but apparently complete, edges plain. Rubricated. Leaf-size 168 x 118 mm. (about 6 3/4 x 4 5/8 inches). There is no indication of early ownership; small black-gold outlines to the tendrils of the opening border and a tiny gold shield at right in the same are decorative elements.

The manuscript opens with a very full Kalendar written on 12 leaves, with Dutch and Flemish saints overwhelmingly predominant. The Life of the Virgin follows immediately, opening with a fine illuminated page. The Virgin looks slightly left at the Child held in Her arms, while He seems to adore Her with His hands raised in prayer. This scene, in which the Virgin is crowned, emphasizes the cult of the Virgin, and is not quite enclosed within the frame of a large initial H, outlined in gold and set on a blue (azurite) ground highlighted with swirl patterns delicately painted in white lead. The page is enclosed in a border of viney leaves in green, blue, and pink, with gold trefoils and small spheres. From the upper right corner a female angelic figure hovers over the scene holding a small pink pot from which the vine tendrils grow. At lower right another angel holds a second pot from which more developed vines grow. The gowned bodies of both of these figures are drawn in pale brown directly on the vellum with only their gold-nimbed heads and green-and-gold or blue-and-gold wings illuminated.

On folio 39 recto the Way of the Cross begins with a large initial "H" in gold and blue infilled with pink which is decorated with white fronds and rosettes and set in a three-quarter border. There are five more such large initials at the openings of the main text. In addition, at divisions of the text are thirty very skillfully illuminated lateral "bar borders" of highly burnished gold with two-color parallel elements with slight borders of green tendrils and gold trefoils extending laterally. In the Litany of Saints there is a gold or blue "S" and a gold-and-blue line-filler initiating each name, again executed with impressive skill.

Between several sections of the manuscript, where an original blank leaf was left deliberately by the scribes and illuminators, an early owner has added prayers in a good, non-professional hand, usually in brownish ink.

The MS is preserved in a good and typical but very plain Dutch binding of beveled beech boards covered in calf with a central panel of triple rules forming a pattern of lozenges. The five bands of the original back were sewn onto thongs, still visible, which were drawn into channels in the covers, glued, and pegged; most of the pegs remain. The two well-wrought brass catches, each fastened with two brass nails, are present on the upper cover, as are the brass and leather attachments on the lower. The catches themselves have been lost as so often happens.

The original pastedowns, front and back, have become unglued from the inner covers; each is conjugate to an original blank serving as a flyleaf. The binding has been rebacked with sheep. The manuscript is preserved in a padded cloth clamshell box.

This is a very well executed manuscript by a professional atelier working to a high standard of quality, in fine, clean condition. For several reasons including unmistakable style of decoration it is almost certain to be of South Netherlandish origin, and may come from Utrecht, where there was certainly a center of production of manuscripts of this type. The use of the Dutch language (more specifically Dutch than Flemish) instead of Latin, which was more widely used throughout Western Europe at this time, is symptomatic of these manuscripts.

As is frequently the case, the present MS was most likely made for or purchased by a woman in cloistered life, in view of the unambiguous emphasis on the cult of the Virgin and special attention to nurturing, that is the cultivation of the tender vine which is Jesus. It is possibly this first owner who added the prayers etc. in Dutch in a good, educated script on originally blank leaves between sections of the MS. The manuscript is datable about 1450.

***Description by: Lawrence Witten, July 1988.

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