Book of Hours of Charles V - Codex Madrid

Book of Hours of Charles V - Codex Madrid Facsimile Edition

Paris (France) — Ca. 1503

Created for an imperial coronation, possessed by cardinals, kings, and emperors: a visually stunning masterpiece by the famous Jean Poyer for Emperor Charles V

  1. One of the most prized manuscripts from the workshop of the great master Jean Poyer (d. ca. 1503)

  2. Produced for the 1520 sea voyage of Charles V (1500–58) from Spain to Germany for his imperial coronation

  3. This coveted work of art was the personal possession of cardinals, kings, and emperors throughout history

Book of Hours of Charles V - Codex Madrid

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  1. Description
  2. Single Page
  3. Facsimile Editions (1)
Book of Hours of Charles V - Codex Madrid

Among the bibliographical treasures exhibited in the Spanish National Library, Cod. Vitr. 24–3 is an exceptionally fine book of hours that belonged to Charles V (1500–58). This manuscript is not just another typical specimen of the countless books of hours produced in the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance to assist the laity in their devotions, but a work that likely accompanied the powerful monarch on his voyage by sea in 1520 from Spain, where he ruled as King Charles I, to Germany, where he was to be crowned Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

Book of Hours of Charles V - Codex Madrid

One of the most important codices of the Spanish National Library is Cod. Vitr. 24–3, which was once owned by Emperor Charles V (1500–58), the person who came closest to recreating the universal monarchy of Charlemagne (742–814). A handwritten note on the second page, Hic liber fuit Magni Imperatoris Caroli V, confirms it was owned by him. Created ca. 1503, it may have been intended to be used as a primer for the young prince. A team of artists working under the French master Jean Poyer (d. 1504) is responsible for the incredible work. It may have been created as a gift for the young Charles in the course of marriage negotiations between the Queen of France, Anne of Brittany and Queen Isabella I of Castile. The agreement did not materialize, but the gift remained in Charles’ possession and may have been with him at his imperial coronation in 1520. The manuscript belonged to the Habsburgs until Philip III gave it to Cardinal Francisco de Joyeuse during his visit to Montserrat Monastery. It was part of the library of Cardinal Zelada in the 18th century and entered the Spanish National Library in 1869 along with other codices of the Cathedral of Toledo.

A Renaissance Masterpiece

The codex, written in French bastarda script is, according to Durrie, "A singularly interesting work for the history of illumination." Of its 336 pages, 320 are profusely illustrated with brightly colored full-page miniatures of the highest quality, making this codex an exceptional jewel. The magnificent décor of the manuscript is further embellished by more than 700 historiated initials as well as abundant and varied borders. Its three double-page miniatures – the Victorious Entry of Heraclius in Jerusalem with the Cross of Christ, David's Victory over Goliath, and the Meeting of the Three Death Knights – suffice to qualify the codex as a masterpiece. The manuscript doubles as an encyclopedia because various cycles are interspersed between the biblical stories including the Sibyls, prophets, legends of the True Cross, Marian miracles, Acts of the Apostles, the lives of David and Job, the Dance of Death, etc. This proliferation of images indicates that the manuscript was intended to be seen more than to be read, which broke the established forms for a book of hours. Only a great master like Jean Poyer could have designed and executed such a magnificent manuscript.

The Opulent Image Program

Far from the typical bucolic scenes, the images of the calendar present daily life throughout the months of the year. They do this by tracing the childhood, youth, and maturity of two brothers, one a pious man and the other sinner. Their life cycle ends in December with the former’s soul ascending to Heaven and the latter descending to Hell. This book of hours dedicates 27 miniatures to Genesis (f. 16–42) and each one of them includes a caption – more than many contemporary Bibles. The image cycle of the Life of Christ is presented in 63 miniatures, the Life and Miracles of the Virgin Mary in 20 miniatures, and the Apocalypse in 12 miniatures. With 320 miniatures altogether, this is one of the most richly illuminated manuscripts ever created, made all the more significant because it is the product of one of the greatest ateliers in history: the Parisian workshop of Jean Poyer, which seamlessly blended the predominant artistic styles from Italy and the Netherlands.


Alternative Titles
Libro de Horas de Carlos V
Stundenbuch Karls V.
Size / Format
333 pages / 23.0 × 15.3 cm
Ca. 1503
Littera bastarda
320 pages nearly completely illuminated with miniatures including 3 double-page miniatures and more than 700 historiated initials
Liturgy of the Hours
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain (1500–1558)
Artist / School
Previous Owners
King Philip III of Spain (1578–1621)
Cardinal François de Joyeuse (1562–1615)
Cardinal Francesco Saverio de Zelada (1717–1801)

Available facsimile editions:
Book of Hours of Charles V - Codex Madrid – Cod. Vitr. 24-3 – Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid, Spain) Facsimile Edition
Club Bibliófilo Versol – Madrid, 1999
Limited Edition: 575 copies
Single Page

Book of Hours of Charles V - Codex Madrid

March: Education of Children

While most illustrated medieval calendars show various labors of the month or other bucolic scenes, some, like the one in this extraordinary book of hours, trace human life from beginning to end. Two brothers are usually presented growing up together, one pious and one sinful, who in December find their way to Heaven and Hell, respectively.

Here we see two richly dressed young noblemen: a good pupil standing attentively before the teacher and a bad pupil, sitting off to the side with a board game. There is a remarkable use of space, light, and shadow in the room, which reveals red tile roofed buildings outside. The elegant script is written alternatively in expensive red and blue inks and framed by flowering tendrils backed by gold leaf.

Libro de Horas de Carlos V
Facsimile Editions

#1 Libro de Horas de Carlos V

Club Bibliófilo Versol – Madrid, 1999
Book of Hours of Charles V - Codex Madrid – Cod. Vitr. 24-3 – Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid, Spain) Facsimile Edition
Book of Hours of Charles V - Codex Madrid – Cod. Vitr. 24-3 – Biblioteca Nacional de España (Madrid, Spain) Facsimile Edition Photos with courtesy of the publisher

Publisher: Club Bibliófilo Versol – Madrid, 1999
Limited Edition: 575 copies
Binding: Leather on wood
Commentary: 1 volume (248 pages) by Anna Muntada Torrellas and Elisa Verela Rodríguez
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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