Thomas Kren, Maryan Ainsworth, Elizabeth Morrison*
The Grimani Breviary is the most elaborate and arguably the greatest work in the history of Flemish manuscript illumination. Purchased by Cardinal Domenico Grimani by 1520 for the enormous sum of five hundred ducats, it brought together the leading illuminators of the time, including the Master of James IV of Scotland (probably Gerard Horenbout), Alexander Bening (the Master of the First Prayer Book of Maximilian), the Master of the David Scenes in the Grimani Breviary, Simon Bening and Gerard David. More important, each of these artists created for this manuscript some of his most exquisite and original miniatures. *
This is the way in which Thomas Kren of Getty Museums has accurately described what is certainly the most important and yet least researched Flemish illuminated manuscript to ever be produced. Despite the tremendous quality and stunning detail of the manuscript, it remains a mystery to many as scholars have not been allowed to view and study the spectacular achievements in painting that characterize this masterpiece.
Totaling an entirety of 1,662 pages, the Grimani Breviary is considered to be a monumental witness to the splendor of Flemish art produced during the Renaissance. It truly illuminates this important period of history. Perhaps one of the most extraordinary features of this manuscript is the choice of motifs, which alternate between religious and lay themes. This manuscript, which contains 110 wonderful miniatures, was intended not only for use in the Church, but also in the private home as well.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the breviary was considered to be one of the most important manuscripts that could be owned. Such illuminated manuscripts contained daily devotions and were painstakingly and lovingly crafted. As such, they were commissioned by only the most powerful and wealthiest families and individuals.
The breviary was an absolute essential for the celebration of the Catholic Mass and featured a monthly calendar to assist in the determination of important feast days. These magnificent calendars were illustrated with stunning scenes that were deemed appropriate for each month. Commissioned by the most powerful and wealthiest rulers throughout Europe, breviaries revealed important scenes from everyday life as well as religious life during the Middle Ages.
Perhaps one of the greatest delights of the Grimani Breviary is the astonishing variety and range it displays. Rich in detail, the Grimani Breviary is a complete joy to the scholar who yearns to understand more about this important time period in the Renaissance.
The full-page illuminations of the Breviary present full-color scenes of seasonal landscapes and rustic life, inviting the viewer to witness daily activities throughout the seasons. Featuring scenes that include feasts, hunting parties and peasants and shepherds as they work in the field, the Grimani Breviary offers an intimate look into everyday life of the wealthy and powerful Flemish bourgeoisie.
The original volume of the Grimani Breviary is in crimson velvet and elaborately adorned with silver-gilt covers, framed by a relief border that is embellished with a running vine stem and four roundels. The inner frame of each cover features additional corner roundels and a large central portrait medallion. The front cover presents a portrait of Cardinal Domenico Grimani while the back cover features a portrait of Doge Antonio Grimani.
[...] The two-day examination of the manuscript by Maryan W. Ainsworth and Thomas Kren proved woefully inadequate to the task of sorting out all of the stylistic and technical issues that the book raises. Nevertheless, the visit underscored the need for a more systematic study of the breviary's illuminations. [...] *
While the original Grimani Breviary is safely locked away in the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, where even scholars are not allowed to routinely study it, your institution now has the rare and unique opportunity to peruse and study the sheer wonder and magnitude of this masterpiece at leisure. Filled with brilliant full-color images of daily life and prayers during the early 16th century, this manuscript is a labor of love and is an essential for anyone who is interested in learning more about Flemish illumination.
Published by Salerno Editrice (Rome) with the high patronage of the President of the Italian Republic, this extraordinary facsimile edition is of only the highest quality and is a loving reproduction of the original Breviary. All of the magnificent details of the original have been faithfully reproduced with the goal of providing a unique and rare opportunity for studying and researching this one of a kind piece of art. Hand-made, the binding has been carefully crafted using only the finest book-binding techniques.
Your reproduction of this spectacular masterpiece will be delivered in a plexiglass and wood display case to protect your valuable treasure from dust. At the same time, you will be able to proudly display it in your institution. A brief guide with a selected bibliography will also be included to ensure that you are able to take full advantage of this rare opportunity to study and expand your knowledge of Flemish art. This faithful reproduction is truly a must-have for all curators, professors, scholars and librarians.
All photos in this article are of the facsimile edition.
Texts followed by the * symbol are quoted from: "Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe", by Thomas Kren and Scot McKendrick. With contributions of Maryan W. Ainsworth, Mari-Tere Alvarez, Brigitte Dekeyzer, Richard Gay, Elizabeth Morrison, Catherine Reynold. Getty Publications, 2003.