Depicting Devotion: Illuminated Books of Hours from the Middle Ages

Washington University Libraries, Department of Special Collections, St. Louis, Winter 2001-2001

Table of Contents
Books of Hours
I Calendar
II Gospel Lessons
III Hours of the Virgin
IV Hours of the Cross
V Additional Prayers to the Virgin
VI Hours of the Holy Spirit
VII Penitential Psalms
VIII Office of the Dead
IX Accessory Texts
X Peacocks and Eggs

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Section IV: Hours of the Cross

A shorter office, the Hours of the Cross, typically follows the Hours of the Virgin. Both the Hours of the Cross and the Hours of the Holy Spirit are accompanied by one illumination, rather than the illuminations at each hour in the Hours of the Virgin. Not surprisingly, it is a depiction of the Crucifixion that introduces the Hours of the Cross. Often the Virgin Mary and St. John stand nearby in mourning. Occasionally a larger crowd, including disciples, soldiers, and others, gather round. The Passion Hours, a longer cycle, may appear instead of the Hours of the Cross. In our collection of Books of Hours, the Passion Hour illuminations were inconsistent or narrative in design. These variations attest to the individual and regional nature of Books of Hours, because local custom and individual preference dictated the structure of these books.

Crucifixion scene MS 6
Paris ca. 1450
possibly the work of a follower of the Bedford Master
20 cm by 13 cm, BX2080/R72/ca. 1450

As usual, Mary and the disciple John stand in mourning. This illumination is full of narration; the centurion Longinus holds a scroll with his words upon it: vere Dei Filius erat iste “truly this was the Son of God.” Another figure pierces Christ, and the flowing blood prefigures the Eucharist. Both the sun and moon appear because, according to tradition, an eclipse occurred at the Crucifixion.

Crucifixion scence MS 2
Northern France (probably Paris), ca. 1420
strong resemblance to the work of the Boucicaut Master, though not his work;
probably produced by a follower or in the workshop of a follower
19.6 cm. by 13.5 cm., BX2080/L77/early 15th C.

A simple crucifixion scene, with Mary and John standing on each side, and a decorative background rather than a landscape. Above Christ's head is the inscription INRI ( Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum , “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews”).

Crucifixion scene MS 8
Probably Parisian, late 15th C., could be ca. 1490s
very standard late 15th C. style, stylistically similar to work of Jean Bourdichon
17.5 cm. by 11.7 cm, BX2080/L75/late 15th C.

Christ as Man of Sorrows
Half-length Christ figure. Christ is depicted as the Man of Sorrows. References to royalty are seen in his crown of thorns and his purple garments shown below. Also below are the dice, which represent the soldiers' gambling for Christ's garments. Additional symbols of the passion, such as a hammer, appear in the border. The significance of the figure in the upper-right remains uncertain.

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