Winged dragon in a very early Hours leaf, c. 1390.

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Fine illuminations

Hours of the Virgin at Vespers

For most God-fearing medieval people, the dragon was a real creature: a reptilian, winged, fire-breathing creature aligned with Satan, the bearer of death and misfortune and, significantly, the evil of paganism.

The dragon depicted on this Book of Hours leaf may well have been included in the illuminations as a reminder to the devout reader of the evils associated with the creature and to direct him or her to the safety and truth of the holy text where salvation was to be found.

Recto 14 lines of text in Latin written in two sizes on vellum in brown ink.  One two-line illuminated initial ‘B’ in pink outlined in black and white on a ground of burnished gold.  The initial is infilled with a foliate design in blue, white and red.  Coloured & gold ivy vines and leaves radiate from the initial into the margins. Seven one-line illuminated initials in burnished gold on blue, red and white. Two line fillers.  A bar border in burnished gold terminates in coloured & gold ivy vines and leaves and a splendidly depicted winged dragon with a gaping mouth.

Verso:  As Recto with one two-line and two one-line illuminated initials and two line fillers.  A bar border with different patterns of ivy vines and leaves.

Source:  France, probably Rouen.

Date:   c.1390.

Content: The text is from the Hours of the Virgin at Vespers.  Both the “Beata es virgo maria”  (Blessed is the Virgin Mary) and the hymn on Verso “Ave maris stella” ( Hail, Star of the Sea) are included in the office.  On Recto there are seven one-line illuminated initials.  The first line reads “Domine ad aduitorum me festina”  (O Lord, come to my assistance). The second initial begins the "Gloria patri"  (Glory to the Father) and the next five initials begin the incipits (opening words) of the Psalms 121 to 125.  Then, in the smaller script is the antiphon "Beata mater et innupta virgo” (Blessed Mother and unwed Virgin).

Condition:  The leaf is in good/very good condition for its age.  The vellum has darkened over the centuries and there are a number of small marks & spots.  However the colours of the illuminations remain strong and the high quality gilding shines brightly.  The leaf is unconditionally guaranteed genuine.

Size: Leaf: c.185x130 mm. Text and illuminated area : c.135x95 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’.

lvy has long been associated with Christian belief.  Ivy climbs towards the sky, symbolising the believer's striving towards God. It forms a union with whatever it may be clinging to, making the two almost inseparable and thus symbolising fidelity and faithfulness.  The evergreen ivy was also viewed as a symbol of the eternal life of the soul after the death of the body.

Early Books of Hours were decorated and illuminated with ivy vines and leaves before illuminators turned to the elaborate contortions of acanthus leaves in the 15th century.

Item Number:  MBH145

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