Radiant miniatures, glowing borders and gold initials on black colored parchment: one of only seven black manuscripts that have survived to this day

Black Hours

Bruges (Belgium) — Around 1475

Black Hours

Black Hours

Bruges (Belgium) — Around 1475

  1. One of only seven surviving black manuscripts, whose pages were dyed with an aggresive iron-copper solution

  2. The Flemish master Willem Vrelant (d. 1481/82) created a work that exceeded the costs of all previous manuscripts

  3. The black backgrounds emphasize the gold and silver ink in which the text is written

Schwarzes Stundenbuch

Black Hours

Massacre of the Innocents

The black backgrounds of this manuscript are particularly well-suited to this scene of carnage. Herod the Great sits on a decorative throne dressed in lavish robes trimmed with ermine and embellished with strokes of golf ink. Two women are shown with their swaddling babes, one in a pink dress holds her swaddled infant while trying to fight off a soldier with her left hand as the other’s child is stabbed. A High Priest with a white beard and pointed hat watches the slaughter.

Black Hours

Alternative Titles:
  • Schwarzes Stundenbuch
  • Das Schwarze Stundenbuch
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
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  1. Short Description
  2. Codicology

Short Description

Only very few illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages originate from a similarly laborious production process as the Black Hours from Bruges. The codex was made ca. 1475 for the court of the Dukes of Burgundy. The vellum pages of the work were dyed dark black and illustrated with high-quality materials. Opaque pastel colors, precious gold and silver on intensive blue and emerald green backgrounds adorn the pages of the unique manuscript. The Black Hours is one of only three surviving black manuscripts that still exist in their original form.

Black Hours

One of the primary works of Gothic illumination arose in Bruges ca. 1475. It is one of only six surviving illuminated manuscripts worldwide that were recorded on black parchment. The so-called Black Hours originated from the artistic circle of the Dutch illuminator Willem Vrelant. It was created as a private prayer and devotional book for a member of the Burgundian court. The uniquely-designed book of hours contains 14 large format miniatures, which stand out through the employment of white, opaque colors, as well as gold and silver against a black background. Embellishing book pages are framed by broad bordures grounded in light blue with gold and silver patterns. Additionally, many multi-lined gold initials against an emerald green background ennoble the text of the book.

Noble Book Art from Bruges

Bruges is the capitol of the modern region of Flanders in Belgium. In the Late Middle Ages, the Dutch region around Bruges was a center of the textile industry and long-distance trade in Europe. The flourishing city was sometimes occupied by the Dukes of Burgundy, under whose rule Bruges became one of the economically and culturally richest cities in Europe at that time. The most famous and talented illuminators of that time came from Bruges and exercised influence from there on artists and miniaturists around the world. Concerning the court of the Dukes of Burgundy, Kaiser Maximilian I commented: “The entire holding of the court was luxurious, the home treasury, and the library full of treasures, and the court ceremonial were oriented on a godlike super-elevation of the ruler.” One can thus imagine, that the dukes spared no expense with regard to the high costs of creating unique manuscripts for their top-quality library. Thus it came about, that the wealthy ruling house commissioned the renowned local illuminator Master Willem Vrelant to make a manuscript that exceeded the production costs of all previously written and illuminated codices.

Cost-Intensive Technique and Precious Illumination

The vellum pages of the masterful Black Hours were next inserted into an iron-copper solution in order to get the unique black color. This laborious production process was exceptionally cost-intensive. It required choosing particularly thick and robust vellum in order to avoid a breakdown of the pages from the color solution. The pages of the book were painted subsequent to the dyeing. The text of the book was recorded with high-quality gold and silver ink which distinguishes itself as it shimmers against the black background. Broad, blue frames, embellished with imaginative gold ornaments, take up half of the text pages. More than 30 great gold and silver initials against an emerald green background accompany the various textual passages. The 14 full-page miniatures of the manuscript are particularly festive against the gleaming black pages. Perspectival interior views and depictions of landscapes were leant an astounding plasticity through various shades of grey and a delicate coloration.

A Costly Rarity

The Black Hours is a unique tour de force of Bruges book art because of its laborious production process and its artful miniatures. Simultaneously, it is the best-preserved of only three remaining black codices still in bound-form. The book still exists today in its original form, which is due to its refined dyes and the high quality of its vellum sheets. Of the remaining black codices from the Middle Ages, only individual sheets are still preserved. These books have, for the most part, decomposed because of the dye.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Schwarzes Stundenbuch
Das Schwarze Stundenbuch
Size / Format
242 pages / 17.0 x 12.0 cm
Date
Around 1475
Language
Illustrations
14 large sized miniatures, blue and golden borders, golden decorated initials on emerald ground
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Schwarzes Stundenbuch

Black Hours

Adoration of the Magi

Dying vellum with an iron-copper solution turns them a deep black, which allows for the unique aesthetic of black manuscripts, some of the rarest in all of medieval illumination. Allowing for the extensive use of gold and silver, as well as opaque pastel colors, these works are particularly well suited to portraying night scenes like this.

The intensive blue frame contrasts wonderfully with the golden tendrils, beautifully framing the familiar scene. As the star that guided them shines in the background in gold ink, the three Magi, dressed in elegant contemporary robes highlighted with gold, present their gifts. The beholder’s attention is focused on the figures and their subtle expressions because so much of the scene is draped in shadow.

1 available facsimile edition(s) of „Black Hours“

Schwarzes Stundenbuch
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
Black Hours – M. 493 – Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)
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Schwarzes Stundenbuch

1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size)
Publisher
Faksimile Verlag – Luzern, 2001
Limited Edition
980 copies
Binding
Made of black velvet, ornate with gilded decorative buttons and a gilded clasp. Faksimile Verlag thus successfully restored to the manuscript a binding which perfectly befits its sumptuous splendour and replaces the current protective 20th century binding. Both the facsimile and the commentary volumes are available in a protective case of acrylic glass.
Commentary
1 volume by Bernard Bousmanne and William Vœlkle
Language: German
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