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Books of Hours (1977)

av John Harthan

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212295,656 (3.79)3
'Books of hours' comprises the personal and prayerbooks of a devout and status-conscious society, from the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The manuscripts come from the official service books of the Church.

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A coffee table book; very well illustrated with 72 full colour plates. John Harthan’s lively introduction is wide ranging and knowledgeable, providing enough information for the casual reader to enjoy the wonderful examples that follow.

In medieval times secular people who wished to carry out their own devotions in relative privacy needed to own their own copy of a prayer book. Missals and Breviary ‘s owned by the clergy were not available or suitable and so wealthy patrons would commission their own personal Books of Hours from artists workshops. These books would be decorated with greater or lesser elaboration according to the taste, status and wealth of the customer. They started to gain popularity in the 14th century and for the next 200 years before the introduction of the printing press, they would be hand produced to order.

Books of Hours could be tailored to the individual needs of the customer, but their popularity coincided with the medieval cult centred on the Virgin Mary. This “Little Office of Our Lady” became the basic text of the Books of Hours to which patrons could add their own personal prayers as well as coats of arms and other paraphernalia of the times. Certain prayers were said at different times during the waking hours and so the books became known as Books of Hours, however their contents did not keep to a strict format, but they would usually start with a calendar, which would contain the important church festivals and the days of the more important saints.

The examples provided which form the meat of the book concentrate on the art work, particularly the full page paintings/illustrations which were a feature in the more sumptuous books of hours. They range from the early 14th century with their medieval like iconography through to the mid 16th century pictures which were smaller versions of renaissance art with its rules of perspective and depth of field firmly in place. The book itself almost provides a pictorial history of the development of art over the period. There is huge variety in the pictures, which repay repeated viewings to discover the wealth of detail contained within them.

Each example and there are usually two from each book featured is followed by an essay. Harthan’s stated aim is to provide some context to the art work displayed and so there is a history of the original owners of the Books of Hours. Many were owned by royalty and so there is some detail provided about the French Royal family in particular. Information on subsequent ownership of the books is also provided where known. The essay also discuss the art work and gives pointers as to the representational details within the pictures and intricate border work, there is also information on the artists where known. My personal preference would have been for the essays to be weighted more towards a discussion of the art work and what it represents and less information on the owners of the books.

It has to be said that some of the illustrations are stunning; works of art in them selves and so this is a great book to dip back into. I am not sure it will always remain on my coffee table but it will certainly stay on my bookshelf, where I will not lose sight of it.
A four star book. ( )
1 rösta baswood | Apr 30, 2012 |
explains how the book of hours was put together, the contents that would be found in one and the social aspects of owning one with numerous examples of some of the best in the world in color ( )
  sprowett | May 14, 2008 |
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'Books of hours' comprises the personal and prayerbooks of a devout and status-conscious society, from the later Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The manuscripts come from the official service books of the Church.

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