Hours of "Launoit" (Use of Rome).
Illuminated manuscript, on parchment, in Latin. With 46 miniatures by the Workshop of the Master of the Prayerbooks. Belgium, likely Ghent, c. 1500.
182 folios (numbered 181), complete, mostly in gatherings of 8, 1 original parchment front flyleaf, unnumbered, 4 original parchment rear flyleaves, unnumbered, plus 2 modern parchment end-leaves and 1 paper end-leaf front and rear, written on 16 long lines in a brown rounded gothic liturgical script, ruled in red (justification, 76 x 46 mm.), rubrics in red, 1- and 2-line initials in lavender acanthus on burnt orange grounds with liquid gold tracery, line endings of the same type, larger 5- and 6-line initials of liquid gold acanthus trompe-l’oeil on various colored grounds, rose, pink, blue, lavender, and green, occasionally with a single flower as infill, 24 illuminated calendar vignettes and 17 full-page illuminated miniatures with full trompe l’oeil borders and matching full borders on the facing pages, and 5 small miniatures, in very clean condition, bound in nineteenth-century dark brown morocco by Gruel on 4 endbands, gilt, slipcased.
The height of the Renaissance in manuscript illumination in Northern Europe is represented by the so-called Ghent Bruges style of painting practiced in these two cities around 1500. It is characterized by trompe l’oeil decoration of birds, insects, and flowers strewn across grounds of golden yellow and by miniatures that echo paintings by many of the most important masters of the Flemish Renaissance. In clean and fresh condition, the present example is a luxurious version of Ghent-Bruges illumination with many full page pictures resembling little panel paintings, with richly imaginative borders of great diversity, and with a fully illuminated calendar portraying the Signs of the Zodiac with the Labors of the Month of scenes from everyday life. The artist, the Master of the Prayerbooks, was a frequent practitioner of the style, including a contributor to the Rothschild Hours, which holds the record for the most expensive Book of Hours ever sold. In the last century, it belonged to a Belgian steel magnate, the Baron Launoit, hence its name.
TEXT ff. 1v-13, Calendar, with the following saints in red: Bishop Eligius ((1 December), Eligius (25 June), Egidius abbot (1 September), Basilius (12 June), Bavo and Remigius (1 October), and the Translation of Thomas (3 July); ff. 13v-14, blank; ff. 15-21v, Short Hours of the Cross; ff. 23-29v, Short Hours of the Trinity; ff. 31-37, Mass of the Virgin Mary; ff. 37-43, Sequences of the Gospels, John (f. 37), Luke (f. 38), Matthew (f. 40), and Mark (f. 42); ff. 43v-44, blank; ff. 45-114, Hours of the Virgin (Use of Rome); Lauds (f. 65); Prime (f. 78); Terce (f. 83); Sext (f. 89); None (f. 94); Vespers (f. 99); Compline (f. 108); ff. 114-115, blank; ff. 115v-133, Seven Penitential Psalms and litanies; ff. 133v-34, blank; ff. 135-163, Office of the Dead; ff. 165-69, Obsecro te; ff. 169-72, O intemerata; ff. 172-73, Verses of Saint Bernard; ff. 173-74, blank; ff. 175-75v, Memoria de sancto Jacobo; ff. 177-177v, De sancta barbara; ff. 179-180, Memoria de sancto xpoforo.
ILLUSTRATION: The subjects of the full-page miniatures and their facing borders are: f. 14v, Crucifixion, with a trompe l’oeil border of the Instruments of the Passion; f. 22v, Pentecost, with a trompe l’oeil border of flowers in niches, lattice work, and a dove on the lower right; f. 30v, Virgin Nursing the Christ Child, with a trompe l’oeil floral border on a liquid gold ground; f. 44v, Annunciation in a church, with trompe l’oeil floral border, peacocks in the lower margins; f. 64, Visitation, with trompe l’oeil border; f. 77v, Nativity, with a trompe l’oeil border of a bond filled with birds and ducks, peacocks below the Nativity; f. 82v, Annunciation to the Shepherds, with a trompe l’oeil border, including on the right an unusual crowned grotesque, part man, part bird, part reptile (a reference to King Herod?); f. 88v, Adoration of the Magi, with trompe l’oeil border including irises; f. 93v, Presentation in the Temple, with a trompe l’oeil floral border; f. 98v, Massacre of the Innocents, with a trompe l’oeil floral border including strawberries and pansies; f. 107v, Flight into Egypt, genre scenes in the distance, with a trompe l’oeil floral border; f. 115v, David in Prayer, his harp on the ground, Herod in the house in the background, with a trompe l’oeil border, a pond with rabbits on the edge; f. 134v, Raising of Lazarus, with a trompe l’oeil border on a black ground with skulls in niches, a lattice work, and flowers; f.164v, Pieta, with a trompe l’oeil floral border; f. 174v, Saint James the Major, showsn as a pilgrim with staff and badges, with a trompe l’oeil floral border; f. 176v, Saint Barbara shown next to her tower in the process of construction, with a trompe l’oeil floral border; f. 178v, Saint Christopher, with a trompe l’oeil floral border. The calendar vignettes, which include the Labors of the Month illustrated with scenes of everyday life facing the Signs of the Zodiac and which all have 3/4 trompe l’oeil borders mostly of floral motifs, are: ff. 1v-2, January, a man warming himself by the fire in front of a table and a boy pouring water (Aquarius); ff. 2v-3, February, a man pruning trees and two fish (Pisces); ff. 3v-4, March, a man preparing soil and a ram (Aries); ff. 4v-5, April, a couple courting on the lawn and a bull (Taurus); ff. 5v-6, May, a man bringing a flower to a woman (courtship) and two children quarreling (Gemini); ff. 6v-7, June, a man in a field drinking from a flask and a reptile (Cancer); ff. 7v-8, July, a man cutting down wheat and a lion (Leo); ff. 8v-9, August, a man sowing wheat and a young girl with a palm leaf (Virgo); ff. 9v-10, a man stomping grapes in a vat and a young girl holding scales (Libra); ff. 10v-11, a man planting seeds and a scorpion (Scorpio); ff. 11v-12, a man knocking acorns from a tree and a group of swine and an archer (Sagittarius); ff. 12v-13, a man killing a pig (on fire?) and a ram (Capricorn). The small miniatures are: f. 37, Saint John on Patmos, with a 3/4 trompe l’oeil border; f. 38v, Saint Luke with his ox, with a 3/4 trompe l’oeil border; f. 40, Saint Matthew and the angel, with a 3/4 trompe l’oeil border; f. 42, Saint Mark with his lion, with a 3/4 trompe l’oeil border; f. 172, Saint Bernard and the Devil.
The Master of the Prayerbooks is the name of a style and the name of an anonymous artist who was the leading exponent of that style. He takes his name from the fact that a large number of prayer books are associated with his style. He was probably active in Bruges, although features of Ghent painting figure in his work, and he and/ or his workshop may have worked in both locations. His stylistic origins are in the work of the Master of Mary of Burgundy (note here the trompe l’oeil border surrounding the Raising of Lazarus that echoes the Master of Mary of Burgundy’s border of the same type in the Hours of Engelbrecht of Nassau) and in monumental Flemish painting (note the Annunciation in the Church after Van Eyck’s Berlin and Washington Annunciations and the Saint Barbara after Van Eyck’s drawing of the same subject). The present manuscript is an especially nice example of his style since it includes a harmonious series of facing border pages for each full-page miniature and in is very clean, fresh condition.
LITERATURE: Unpublished, but compare: De Kesel, Godelieve. "The Master of the Prayer Books of around 1500 in the Spotlight: an Investigation of the artist(s), the oeuvre, their colleagues and their patrons." Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Ghent, 2013. Dogaer, Georges. Flemish Miniature Painting in the 15th and 16th Centuries, Amsterdam, 1987, pp. 159-60; Smeyers, M. L’Art de la miniature flamande, VIIIe aux XVIe siècle, Tournai, Renaissance du livre, 1998, pp. 426-427. PROVENANCE 1. Illuminated in the "Ghent-Bruges" style probably in Ghent by an artist of the circle of the Master of the Prayerbooks. Saints from Ghent and Bruges are in red in the calendar, and the miniatures follow the pictorial legacy of Jan van Eyck. 2. Baron de Launoit, 20th century Belgian steel magnates and bankers, founder of the Banque de Bruxelles-Cofindus-Brufina, his book-plate inside front cover. 3. Georges Rufsell, signature on first parchment flyleaf, and on f. 1, in the same hand: "There was a paper pined to a lefe which now is lost but it dated this booke to bee painted in the yeare 1501." 4. James and Elizabeth Ferrell Collection, United States.