Book of Hours of Cardinal Carafa

Book of Hours of Cardinal Carafa – ArtCodex – ms. vat. lat. 9490 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)

Italy — 15th century

Careful calligraphy, ornate initials, and pastel miniatures in perfection: a gleaming golden Renaissance masterpiece on purple parchment for the mentor of the future Pope Paul IV

  1. Oliviero Carafa (1430–1511) was a cardinal, archbishop, condottiero, jurist, and leading patron of the arts

  2. Costly purple parchment was chosen for the manuscript he commissioned from Bartolomeo Sanvito (1433–1511)

  3. Sanvito capitalized on the rich, dark backgrounds by using gold, silver, and delicate pastel colors

Book of Hours of Cardinal Carafa

  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Book of Hours of Cardinal Carafa
Book of Hours of Cardinal Carafa

The Vatican Library houses a true gem of Italian Renaissance book art: the so-called Book of Hours of Cardinal Carafa. Measuring merely 14.0 × 9.0 cm, the book of hours was lavishly decorated by Bartolomeo Sanvito for his high-ranking patron, Cardinal Oliviero Carafa. The talented artist from Padua used the finest materials to create a sublime work of art that is emblematic of the achievements in book art of the Renaissance in Italy. Beautifully detailed and naturalistic miniatures and calligraphy shine in gold, silver and pastel tones on purple dyed parchment. With this splendour, the personal book of hours also represents the power and influence held by the wealthy patron of the arts, prince of the church and mentor of the later Pope Paul IV.

Book of Hours of Cardinal Carafa

Oliviero Carafa (1430–1511) was a cardinal, archbishop, condottiere, and jurist, as well as a leading patron of the arts in his day. He was a member of the powerful Carafa family, one of the leading dynasties of Renaissance Naples, and had extensive connections with royalty throughout Europe. His ambitions did not stop at the Holy See either, although this was not to be crowned with success – unlike in the case of his nephew Giovanni Pietro Carafa (1476–1559), whose mentor he was and who eventually ascended the Chair of Peter as Pope Paul IV in 1555. As a clerical patron of the arts, the cardinal donated numerous works of art, including one of the most important chapels of the early Renaissance: the Cappella Carafa in the basilica Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome, named after him and decorated by Filippino Lippi.

The work of a gifted Early Renaissance scribe

Probably the most beautiful and magnificent work of book art commissioned by Cardinal Carafa is this purple Book of Hours, created by the talented Paduan scribe Bartolomeo Sanvito (1433–1511) in Rome around the year 1480. By this time, Sanvito had long since risen to become the leading scribe for humanistic texts and had already worked for many prestigious patrons. His artistry can still be admired today in far more than 100 surviving manuscripts.

Innovative luxury

The Book of Hours of Cardinal Carafa is part of a whole series of books of hours that Sanvito made in the 1480s, when he was already suffering from arthritis. Inspired by ancient art, he chose elegant and precious purple dyed parchment for it, which he inscribed entirely with gold and silver inks - thereby introducing a new luxurious style to Italian Renaissance book art. The dark and rich background makes Sanvito's masterly humanistic cursive all the more radiant. His lettering looks so effortlessly elegant and meticulous that one might assume it was printed, even though each of the gold and silver letters was placed on the parchment by hand.

Masterly Renaissance book art in gold, silver and pastel tones

In addition to Sanvito's luminous calligraphy, the luxurious book of hours features breathtaking illuminations of the highest quality: It begins with a frontispiece displaying the Cardinal's coat of arms, which appears in a garlanded illusory architecture. This is followed by a wonderful full-page miniature of the Holy Family in pastel tones and with golden details, characterised by impressive figures with great physicalness and spatial depth. Another full-page miniature shows King David in an extraordinarily magnificent frame. Likewise artistic are the four exuberantly designed incipit pages, which introduce the Penitential Psalms as well as the Offices of the Virgin Mary, the Dead and the Holy Cross with figure medallions and rich framings, and which particularly emphasise them within the manuscript. The other Hours are introduced by eight masterfully executed, large historiated initials with naturalistic bust portraits of saints, which are connected with beautiful floral and ornamental borders. At the same time, smaller ornamental initials in gold and silver decorate and structure the texts. This in every respect precious manuscript is today one of the special jewels of the world-famous Vatican Apostolic Library in the Vatican City in Rome and is kept there under the signature Vat. lat. 9490.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Libro d'Ore del Cardinale Carafa
Stundenbuch von Kardinal Carafa
Size / Format
398 pages / 14.0 × 9.0 cm
Origin
Italy
Date
15th century
Language
Script
Humanistic cursive
Illustrations
1 ornate frontispiece with the cardinal's coat of arms, 2 full-page miniatures and 4 splendid inicipit pages in gold, silver and pastel tones as well as 8 historiated initials on purple vellum
Content
Calendar, Office of the Virgin Mary, Canonical hours, Penitential Psalms, Office of the Dead, Office of the Holy Cross
Patron
Cardinal Oliviero Carafa
Artist / School

Available facsimile editions:
Book of Hours of Cardinal Carafa – ArtCodex – ms. vat. lat. 9490 – Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (Vatican City, State of the Vatican City)
ArtCodex – Castelvetro di Modena, 2016
Limited Edition: 1059 copies (999 Arabic copies, 60 Roman publisher's copies)
Detail Picture

Book of Hours of Cardinal Carafa

King David

King David is shown kneeling, hands folded in prayer with his lyre laid down alongside him in this wonderful pastel colored miniature, which is further embellished with the skillful use of gold ink. Two angels put their hands on the shoulders of the King of Israel, who has a surprised look on his face as he lays eyes upon the two heavenly messengers. The image is likely to be symbolic of the divine inspiration that allowed David to compose the Psalms according to biblical tradition.

Libro d'Ore del Cardinale Carafa
Single Page

Book of Hours of Cardinal Carafa

Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Despite having a corner torn away, this is a splendidly embellished page introducing the Little Office, which is recited at Matins with seasonal variations at Advent and Christmastide. The artist has made full use of the rare and expensive purple-dyed parchment by using delicate pastel colors and gold ink in particular to create one of the most unique and beautiful Renaissance manuscripts.

Masterfully shaded cherubs with golden wings and hair surround the text field: two stand in classically-styled vases, each holding up a cornucopia, while two more sit aloft facing one another. Cardinal Carafa’s coat of arms is displayed at the bottom of the page, where we see other details like table legs in the shape of lions’ feet and winged human hybrids.

Libro d'Ore del Cardinale Carafa
Facsimile Editions

#1 Libro d'Ore del Cardinale Carafa

ArtCodex – Castelvetro di Modena, 2016

Publisher: ArtCodex – Castelvetro di Modena, 2016
Limited Edition: 1059 copies (999 Arabic copies, 60 Roman publisher's copies)
Binding: White leather with gold embossing
Commentary: 1 volume
Language: Italian
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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