Book Altar of Philip the Good

Book Altar of Philip the Good

France — 1430–1450

A unicum of art history: the unique combination of a private devotional book and travel diptych for the Duke of Burgundy

  1. A unique, astonishing combination of a private prayer book and a panel diptych from the 15th century

  2. Made exactly according to the wishes of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (1396–1467) for his private use

  3. A very personal and private glimpse into the life of the late-medieval prince

Book Altar of Philip the Good

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (2)
Description
Book Altar of Philip the Good

The library of the ducal family of Burgundy housed countless impressive and unbelievably rare book treasures in the Middle Ages. Found among these rarities is the Book Altar of Philip the Good. This astonishing combination of a private prayer book and a panel diptych is unique in the history of book art. The small booklet was a fabrication made according to the very personal wishes of the Duke of Burgundy, who bore it with him daily and used it for quiet devotion.

Book Altar of Philip the Good

Sometime in the year 1430, a handwritten and illuminated codex, which is unique in the history of illumination to this day, arose in France. The Book Altar of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, is a unique combination of a private prayer and devotional book and a panel diptych. The exceptional work contains a selection of prayers and miniatures that played a special role in the spiritual life of the Duke. This is a manuscript that was made exactly according to the personal wishes of Philip the Good and which he used daily for quiet devotion and meditation until the end of his life. The booklet’s mere 76 pages also contain five additional splendid miniatures in addition to the diptych. Many gold initials in various sizes further adorn the manuscript.

From the Personal Property of Philip the Good

Philip the Good spent his time during his reign in various, sometimes far-flung residences of the ruling family of Burgundy. These trips from location to location were of great significance for his depiction of his sovereign might and was part of the everyday life of the prince. The devout ruler dedicated himself to prayer and meditation daily. In order to have the Word of God to generally guide him, he had a small and easy to handle prayer book made, from which he practiced private devotion until the end of his life. The diptych part of the prayer book exhibits two pictures, which already originate from 20 years before the body of the book. Both of the pictures occupied a place of such high meaning for Philip, that he wanted to have them before him for his daily prayers. That is why they were appended to the book in such an unusual and unique way. The prayer texts, which Philip chose for his devotional book, also mirrored very personal themes. There were biblical themes chosen with which the Duke intimately concerned himself, e.g. Psalms from the Devotions of St. Bernhard of Clairvaux and John’s story of the Passion. Historically interested readers gain a very personal and private glimpse into the life of the late-medieval prince through the booklet.

Illumination full of Signs and Symbols

The Book Altar of Philip the Good was furnished with **splendid and elaborate miniatures and countless additional decorative elements of gold and silver by an unknown illuminator. The first double-page of the book contains numerous symbols of rule of the house of Burgundy as well as the personal coat of arms of Philip the Good. A pilgrim badge, which was typically affixed to hats and clothing in the Late Middle Ages, was sewn into the prayer book. Each miniature of the booklet shows Philip at prayer. Sometimes he is also depicted alone, sometimes with his son Charles or also while visiting mass. A few miniatures depict the veneration of the Holy Trinity. Half of the diptych sections show a traditional representation of the trinity. The tone of this theme is bound up in the fact that the monastery, in which the Dukes of Burgundy found their final resting place, was consecrated to the Trinity. As a result, the trinity is the overarching pictorial theme in the Book Altar of Philip the Good. The handsome script of the book was rounded out by diverse and imaginative ornamentation.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Buchaltärchen Philipps des Guten
Libro altar de Felipe III, Duque de Borgoña
Size / Format
76 pages / 35.0 × 14.2 cm (book); 18.5 × 12.7 to 13.0 cm (leaves)
Origin
France
Date
1430–1450
Style
Language
Illustrations
5 magnificent miniatures, numerous large and smaller gold initials and two diptych miniatures

Available facsimile editions:
Book Altar of Philip the Good – Cod. 1800 – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria)
Faksimile Verlag – Lucerne, 1991
Limited Edition: 980 copies

Libro Altar de Felipe III, Duque de Borgoña
Club Bibliófilo Versol – Madrid, 2016
Limited Edition: 350 copies
Detail Picture

Book Altar of Philip the Good

Mass of Saint Gregory

According to legend, when Pope Gregory I was performing mass a woman doubted that the Eucharist was indeed Christ. After praying for a sign, a vision of Christ with the wounds of the Passion appeared on the altar and the legend became a popular subject for illuminated manuscripts and altarpieces alike. Christ fills a chalice with blood from his side as Gregory upholds a communion wafer. The inclusion of Duke Philip dressed in black, kneeling in prayer simultaneously makes this a donor portrait.

Buchaltärchen Philipps des Guten
Single Page

Book Altar of Philip the Good

The Crucifixion

This is a unique private prayer book with a small panel diptych fixed atop the text so it can be viewed while flipping through the pages. It is a sign of the wealth and sophistication of the Duke of Burgundy, combining two great medieval art forms. This tiny Crucifixion scene measures is not bigger than the palm of a man’s hand, and yet is incredibly detailed and refined.

The checkered background of this work reveals intricate patterns of red, blue, and gold leaf. On a blood-red cross, Christ appears as though he is about to die as blood flows from his wounds and his eyes are closed. He is flanked by a figure wearing a miter, representing his church on earth, and an angel, representing his kingdom in heaven.

Buchaltärchen Philipps des Guten
Facsimile Editions

#1 Buchaltärchen Philipps des Guten

Faksimile Verlag – Lucerne, 1991
Book Altar of Philip the Good – Cod. 1800 – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria)
Book Altar of Philip the Good – Cod. 1800 – Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria) Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Publisher: Faksimile Verlag – Lucerne, 1991
Limited Edition: 980 copies
Binding: The dimensions of the binding are 35.0 x 14.2 cm. The wooden panels are secured by sturdy hinges and bound in brown, embossed kidskin leather, and the diptych has been gilded by hand. The leaves have been trimmed in full accordance with the original.
Commentary: 1 volume (207 pages) by Otto Mazal and Dagmar Thoss
Languages: German, French
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: € (under 1,000€)
Edition available
Please ask for a quote!

#2 Libro Altar de Felipe III, Duque de Borgoña

Club Bibliófilo Versol – Madrid, 2016

Publisher: Club Bibliófilo Versol – Madrid, 2016
Limited Edition: 350 copies
Binding: Real parchment edition
Commentary: 1 volume by Alfonso García Leal
Language: Spanish
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
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