The Hours of Mary of Burgundy,
Harvey Miller, £48 "THEY CAME TO A place called Gethsemane and Jesus said to his disciples, 'Sit here while I pray'. He took Peter, James and John with him. Distress and anguish came over him, and he said to them, 'The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me. Stay here and keep watch'." (St Mark's Gospel, chap. 14).
This episode, Oictured above), is one of the most
striking illustrations contained in the Book of Hours created for Mary of Burgundy in the 1470s.
Its dazzling manuscript illuminations, with their colourful, gilded details of birds, animals and foliage, are justly celebrated as among the most richly decorated and magnificent Books of Hours to emerge from the late Middle Ages.
Books of Hours were the most popular type of medieval devotional book, used to demonstrate both personal and public displays of piety. They were ritual in nature, designed to be used on a daily basis.
They were modelled on the monastic Office of the Virgin, a body of psalms, prayersand other texts to be read in honour of Our Lady. The Office was divided into eight parts, to be read during the eight canonical hours of the monastic day.
Visually, the miniatures which mark the Book of Hours serve as title pages to each section. Therefore, a picture of Pentecost announces the Hours of the Holy Spirit, while the Annunciation marks the beginning of the hours of the Virgin.
Flanders, where Mary of Burgundy's Book of Hours was created, emerged as the main centre for the production of this increasingly popular and luxurious display of devotion.
Each page of this magnificent book is so rich in tiny detail even, in one case two monkeys, hovering in the margin, picking nits out of each other's fur that one wonders how Mary ofBurgundy kept her mind on her devotions at all, with so much, sacred and profane, to marvel at.