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By Henry Handley

If you’ve visited the Marian Library for a class or to see an exhibit in the past few years, there’s a good chance that you’ve seen at least one of the Marian Library’s Books of Hours (or horae, the Latin term for hours). From REL 103 tours of the Marian Library to primary source instruction with medieval history and literature classes, these hand-illustrated prayer books offer many surprises for students and other visitors who never imagined they might be able to turn the pages of these medieval and early modern marvels. Thanks to a generous donation from Stuart and Mimi Rose, a richly illuminated Book of Hours from 16th-century France is now part of the Marian Library’s permanent collection after it previously appeared on loan (and now online) in the Mary in Miniature exhibit.

Centered on the Little Office of the Virgin Mary, often shortened to the Hours of the Virgin, these prayer books are examples of Marian devotion from the mid-to-late Middle Ages — some humbly written and sparsely illustrated; some produced for the nobility; and many others surviving only as fragments. For its first owner, this prayer book was a status symbol as well as a devotional object — a richly illuminated manuscript with prayers, psalms, hymns and texts accompanied by full-page miniatures depicting scenes from the lives of Christ, Mary, the apostles and the saints. The manuscript is attributed to the Master of the Ango Hours, an artist (or more likely one or several members of a workshop of artists and scribes) credited with a Book of Hours produced for the Ango family of Normandy. The work of the Ango Master is “readily recognized in every aspect, from facial types or drapery folds to its generally proto-rococo character, from its opalescent flesh to the tumultuous terrain of its landscapes,” according to John Plummer, a former curator of the Morgan Library and Museum in New York, where another Book of Hours by the Ango Master resides.(1) Only a handful of Ango Master Books of Hours like this one — produced for the use of Rouen, a variant on the Roman liturgical rite that was practiced in northern France — remain. The manuscript’s beauty and rarity make it a treasured gift — a highlight of the collection for years to come.

Further reading/sources:

1) Plummer, J. and G. Clark, The Last Flowering: French Painting in Manuscripts, 1420-1530 (New York: Pierpont Morgan Library, 1982), 94.


Thanks to Louis Weinstein and Sotheby’s for their descriptions of this book.

— Henry Handley is a collections librarian in the Marian Library.

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