French Book of Hours leaf c.1475
with an owl in the illuminations.
While today the owl is associated with wisdom and intelligence, in medieval Europe it was quite the opposite. The bird was said to be the companion of witches and its call meant that someone was about to die. A more disturbing element of owls' negative symbolism is their association with anti-Semitism. Owls, who are day-blind and live in darkness, were used to represent Jews in medieval England, who were said to have rejected the light of Christ and lived in the darkness of religious blasphemy. This accounts for the anthropomorphic appearance of some manuscript drawings of owls: they were sometimes given hooked noses to resemble Jews, and their horns represented the horned hats Jews were forced to wear.
However, in the case of this leaf, and considering the context of the the death of Jesus, the most likely reason for the owl’s inclusion in the illuminations was as a common medieval Christian symbol representing mourning and desolation.
Recto: 14 lines of text in Latin written on vellum in black ink. Ruled in red and rubrics in red. Two two-line and two one-line illuminated initials. A panel of illuminations beside the text includes a mournful owl, speedwell (the blue of the Virgin’s mantle) and daisies ( the name is literally The ‘Day’s Eye’ as it opens each morning and the petals close at night, and represents purity and innocence).
Verso: 9 lines of text.
Content: The leaf is from the Office of the Holy Cross. The two-line illuminated initial ‘H’ on the fourth line begins the hymn:
Hora nona Dominus Iesus expiravit:
Eli clamans spiritum patri commendavit:
Latus eius lancea miles perforavit.
Terra tunc contremuit, et sol obscuravit.
Jesus Lord at the ninth hour his spirit forth did send:
Crying Eli and his soul to father did commend:
With a lance a soldier did pierce through his tender side:
The earth then trembled and the sun his shining light did hide.
Condition: The leaf is in very good condition. Edge toning, light toning through the centre of the text block and a stain & minor loss of vellum at the bottom of the leaf are minor considerations. The beautifully painted illuminated panel retains all of its original bright colours. The leaf is unconditionally guaranteed genuine.
Size: Leaf: c.145x100 mm. Text and illuminated area : c. 65x80 mm.
Item Number: MBH150