Facsimile edition by Quaternio Verlag Luzern (Switzerland), 2012.
Lovingly detailed interiors, landscapes extending to the horizon, borders strewn with deceptively realistic flowers and insects—these are just some of the achievements in painting that characterize fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Flemish book illumination. An especially beautiful example of this artistic perfection is the Flemish Book of Hours of Marie de Medici. Featuring three full-sized illuminations similar to paintings, 42 full-page miniatures, historiated or golden initials, and borders covered in Flemish or Italianate flowers or architecture on every page of text, the Flemish Book of Hours of Marie de Medici has 176 pages measuring 20.4 × 13.7 cm, each one with unusually luxurious illuminations.
The Flemish Book of Hours of Marie de Medici was probably commissioned by a wealthy female patron in Ghent or Bruges and produced between 1515 and 1520 by an anonymous artist known today simply as the “Master of the David Scenes in the Grimani Breviary.” The David Master was one of the great Flemish masters and is mentioned in company with Gerard Horenbout and Simon Bening. The David Master was at the apex of his career and artistic maturity when he began working on the Flemish Book of Hours of Marie de Medici, and it is one of the most elaborately ornamented works ever to come out of his studio.
In each and every one of the miniatures, the reader can see that the illuminator took great pleasure in telling and depicting stories. Dynamic compositions and a brilliant palette characterize his style. Another outstanding hallmark of his art is his love for architecture: all of the details in the master’s pictures of city streets and squares are faithfully rendered, permitting us to see inside late Gothic churches, studios, and private chambers.
In order to be able to tell as much of the story as possible, and not simply illustrate the main miniature’s given theme, the David Master created detailed, refined architectural structures, turning the main image and its borders into an apparently unified space. He then composed other biblical or legendary stories like genre scenes, relating them to the main miniature.
Around the turn of the fifteenth century, when the production of private devotionals became a specialty of the Ghent-Bruges illuminators, the book of hours had already been a very popular type for almost two centuries. The term “book of hours” is derived from the practice of offering up certain prayers at fixed hours of the day and night. At first, the psalter served as a private prayer book. However, additional texts soon joined the 150 psalms of a psalter. From then on, the heart of the book was formed by the Little Office of Our Lady, various excerpts from the four gospels, the Hours of the Cross, the seven Penitential Psalms, an Office for the Dead, and a Litany of the Saints. In terms of individual texts and images, however, there were practically no limits to what the purchaser of the book could request.
The facsimile edition of the Flemish Book of Hours of Marie de Medici, the original of which is listed in the inventory of the Bodleian Library in Oxford as Ms. Douce 112, is being published by Quaternio Editions Lucerne in a unique, hand-numbered, limited edition of 680 copies. With three full-sized illuminations simillar to paintings and 42 full-page miniatures, the Flemish Book of Hours of Marie de Medici is generously illustrated. Soft borders strewn with flowers on a gold ground, or historiated borders in Flemish or Italian style ornament every page. Multi-line initials on gold-highlighted, coloured ground introduce the devotional texts. Measuring approximately 20.4 × 13.7 cm, the facsimile edition faithfully reproduces all 176 pages of the original.
The original sixteenth-century volume is in burgundy-red velvet and elaborately ornamented with silver and coloured silk thread embroidery on both front and back covers, as well as the spine. The binding of the facsimile is a faithful replica of this magnificent Renaissance binding.
Both volumes—the facsimile and the commentary—are delivered in an acrylic glass case, which protects the valuable edition from dust, yet at the same time, allows it to be decoratively displayed.
Eberhard König, Professor of Art History at the Freie Universität, Berlin, picturesquely elucidates the golden age of Flemish manuscript illumination, and positions the Flemish Book of Hours of Marie de Medici within the oeuvre of the Master of the David Scenes. A detailed description of every miniature allows the reader to discover all of the richly imagined detail in each illumination. London specialist in medieval manuscripts Peter J. Kidd describes the codicology of the signatures and reconstructs the book’s intriguing history across the centuries. Commentary available either in English or in German (separate volumes).