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Printed Books of Hours in the Gordon Collection

The Gordon Collection includes three printed books of hours that represent major stylistic changes in the genre over the course of the sixteenth century. Descriptions of each of them follow, along with links to complete digital facsimiles. To view the images, click on the call number of the volume.


Gordon1511_C38

Hore diue v[ir]gis Marie scd[u]m veru[m] vsum Romanu[m]…

Early printed hours tended to imitate the appearance of the manuscript book, with numerous woodcut illustrations echoing the subjects and styles of the hand illuminations. Early printers compensated for the lack of color by using various shading techniques, including the “criblé” effect on metal cut borders (see file #18) , and by framing each page of text and illustration in ornate borders filled with images both secular and profane. Deluxe books of hours from the late 15th and early 16th centuries, such as the 1511 hours, were printed on vellum and rubricated by hand, with initial letters decorated in gold on red and blue paint. Note that the text on the calendar pages is printed in both red and black, with red ink used for the important feast days. The roman typeface in this book is somewhat unusual, as horae, like most books from this early period, were most often printed in gothic type, reminiscent of the handwriting from a monk’s scriptorium. (The 1540 Hours listed below provides an example of a gothic typeface.)


Gordon 1540 .C38 no. 1&2

Ces presentes heures a lusaige de Paris… [bound with] Ad vesperas.… (1551)

The prayers in the medieval book of hours, like all liturgical and devotional texts of the day, were written in Latin. Lay owners of the books, raised in the Catholic church, would have been very familiar with all of the prayers and passages included, and very likely had no trouble reading or reciting them in Latin. With the growing importance of the vernacular during the Renaissance, however, printers began using French in a limited way in the books of hours, including all or part of the calendar pages, and captions for the full-page illustrations, as is the case in the 1540 Hours printed by the widow of Thielman Kerver. The illustrations in the calendar of this book compare the months of the year to the various stages in the life of a man; the woodcut for January is accompanied by four lines of verse in French, comparing the first month of the year to man’s infancy. The illustration of Christ dying on the cross (file #127) is likewise accompanied by a verse caption in French, although the text it illustrates is in Latin. Many of the devotional orationes that follow the Office of the Dead are preceded by an explanation in French as to when the reader should recite the prayer, during the mass (“A lelevation du corps nostre seigneur,” for example), or in certain circumstances (“contre la tentation de la chaire” or “contre les mauvaises pensees”). Additional prayers entirely in French appear at the end of the volume.


Gordon1597_C38

Officium Beatae Mariae Virginis…

As aesthetic tastes evolved during the sixteenth century in France, books of hours, like other printed books, tended to a less ornate and arguably more elegant in appearance. Influenced in large part by the Italian Renaissance and the printers in Venice and Rome, French printers replaced the gothic letter with the more readable Roman typeface, and opted for a more open page design, often foregoing the ornate borders that surrounded the text in earlier books of hours. These books were still produced in deluxe editions, however, and printed in red and black with elegant (though fewer) illustrations. The 1597 hours in the Gordon Collection is an example of just such a deluxe and costly printing job late in the century. The illustrations are rendered in delicate metal engravings, and the text is printed in both red and black, meaning that each sheet of paper had to be put through a press at least two times, and a third time in the case of sheets with engravings. The ornate binding, decorated with arms that some book historians attribute to Marguerite de Valois, further indicates wealthy ownership of the volume.

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Digital facsimiles of books of hours

Life of St. Margaret page



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