Sunday Book-Thought 24

The demise of the marginal tradition might be attributed to the printing press, which used repeatable blocks to frame pages of Books of Hours and limited the newly discovered Grotesque decorations to another ‘modern’ invention, the title page. As Samuel Kinser notes, compared to the manuscript book the printed book ‘has small margins just wide enough for a word or two, an emendation, an exclamation.’ The urge to have clean edges often resulted in medieval manuscripts being cruelly cropped down, a practice typical of the increasing disrespect for everything but the text in subsequent centuries. The great religious upheaval of the Reformation also had its effect on the eradication of the medieval image-world. A great rift opens up between words and images. Language is now in a separate realm, written in discrete boxes or in fields hanging in the picture space.
Focusing all representation in the middle, the centre where man stood resplendent, Renaissance thinkers pretended that they no longer required this space of ‘otherness,’ unless it be the new edges of the World being discovered by Columbus.
Michael Camille

Christmas Countdown: 5 More Sleeps!


The Book of Hours of Louis XII, folio unknown, 1498/1499

It’s all about the Books of Hours lately, isn’t it?

Jean Bourdichon, this book’s illuminator, served as “official court painter to four successive French kings: Louis XI, Charles VIII, Louis XII, and François I. As court painter, he designed stained glass windows, coins, and gold plates, illuminated manuscripts, and executed independent paintings” (thanks, Getty!). Unfortunately, only one of Bourdichon’s panel paintings survives, and he’s now mostly known for his manuscript work. Which, you know, is fine with me, but makes a few art historians pretty sad.

The image above is one of Bourdichon’s best-known pieces, and many historians have written about it. Unfortunately, no one seems to have looked too deeply into the people in the background. If you look closely, you’ll see that they’re holding spears. Huh?

Also in the background is a castle. Could that be the castle of Louis XII? As illustrated previously in the Très Riches Heures, illuminators frequently incorporated their books’ patron’s settings into the miniatures. Because this image isfrom a personal prayer book, adding a building that Louis would be familiar with would make sense, as it could stimulate reflection on the scene by making it seem closer to him.

There’s just one more thing that I feel like I need to mention about this piece. In the same Book of Hours, Bourdichon also made a miniature of Bathsheba bathing. Great – I like pictures of naked women as much as the next person. So why am I bringing this up, you ask? Well… is it just me, or does Mary in the image above look a little bit too much like Bathsheba in the image to the right?

If you want to know more about The Hours of Louis XII, check out this book here. Janet Backhouse, who wrote some of the best books on illuminated manuscripts available, wrote an essay in there that’s especially good.