Calendar leaf for February. Hours leaf, c. 1480, Paris.

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A beautifully scribed leaf with elaborate illuminations


Red Letter Days. A Book of Hours’ calendar typically shows saints’ days and church feasts written in black, with major festivals written in red.  From this practice the term "red letter day”, for a particularly important day, arose. The practice was continued after the invention of the printing press, including in Catholic liturgical books. Many calendars still indicate special dates, festivals and holidays in red instead of black.

Recto:  Text written in French on fine vellum in red and black inks in a precise gothic script.  Nine one-line illuminated initials in raised & burnished gold on colourful grounds.  At top left is a two-line illuminated panel containing the initials ‘KL’ (for the Latin Kalends) in blue, white and black on a raised & burnished gold ground.  The initials are infilled with coloured foliate designs. Radiating from the panel are full page-length illuminations of ivy vines bearing burnished gold ivy leaves, bezants and coloured flowers. Beside the panel is written the month - Fevrier (February).

To the right of the text is a panel of illuminations consisting of swirling black tendrils with coloured and burnished gold flowers & leaves and detailing in black seeding - a style of illumination called rinceaux.

Verso:  As Recto, with a similar panel of illuminations and five illuminated initials.

Source:   Northern France, probably Paris.

Date:   c.1480.

Content:  Among the saints’ days listed for February are Sever, Blaise, Agathe, Appoline, Valentin and Juliane. Major feast days are written in red: La purification notre dame (the Purification of the Virgin), and on Verso, Peter and Matthew.

To the left of the Saints’ days is a column of  a repeating series of letters - kl, id & n.  These stand for 3 fixed points in the month, Kalends (1st day), Ides (middle) and Nones (9th day before Ides).  All days in between were counted backwards from these points.

Further left is a repeating series of letters, a - g, called Dominical Letters, to help find Sundays (after many calculations).  At the far left in red is an odd column of Roman numerals i - xix called Golden Numbers to indicate the appearances of new moons, and, counting ahead 14 days, full moons.

Condition:  This leaf is in excellent condition.  The text and illuminations remain bright and lustrous. There is some toning to the vellum at the outer edges which is masked off by the mat.  It is unconditionally guaranteed genuine as described.

Size: Leaf:  c.180x130 mm. Text & illuminated area:  c.120x120 mm.

Notes:  The Book of Hours has its ultimate origin in the Psalter, which monks and nuns were required to recite daily.  By the 12th century the breviary had been developed, with weekly cycles of psalms, prayers, hymns, antiphons, and readings which changed with the liturgical season. Eventually a selection of texts was produced in much shorter volumes and came to be called a “book of hours”. During the latter part of the 13th century the Book of Hours became popular as a personal prayer book for men and women who led secular lives. It consisted of a selection of prayers, psalms, hymns and lessons based on the liturgy of the clergy. Each book was unique in its content though all included the Hours of the Virgin Mary, devotions to be made during the eight canonical hours of the day, the reasoning behind the name 'Book of Hours’.

Item No:  MBH141

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