Book of Hours of the Bishop Fonseca

Book of Hours of the Bishop Fonseca

Bruges or Ghent (Belgium) — ca. 1500

Medieval life, hunting, and harvesting: a manuscript adorned with charming scenes created by unknown Flemish masters

  1. This Flemish masterpiece was created by anonymous artists ca. 1500 for Bishop Juan Rodriguez Fonseca (1451–1524)

  2. The diverse artistic adornment of the manuscript is rendered in luminous colors and occasional gold leaf

  3. Entertaining scenes of medieval life such as the harvest or a hunt fill the charming manuscript

Book of Hours of the Bishop Fonseca

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Book of Hours of the Bishop Fonseca

The Book of Hours of the Bishop Juan Rodriguez Fonseca is counted among the high points of Flemish painting ca. 1500. Although none of the great masters have been able to be clearly identified up to today, the quality of the artistic furnishings is undisputed and recognizable at first glance for every beholder. Magnificent ornamentation, imaginative details, grandiose miniatures, and particularly creative calendar pages make the Book of Hours of the Bishop Fonseca something completely exceptional. Furthermore, the name of the supposed commissioner is closely linked with Spanish history ca. 1500, he was among the most influential and close confidants of the Catholic Kings.

Book of Hours of the Bishop Fonseca

The Book of Hours of the Bishop Juan Rodriguez Fonsecais counted among the high points of Flemish painting ca. 1500. Although none of the great masters have been able to be clearly identified up to today, the quality of the artistic furnishings is undisputed and recognizable at first glance for every beholder. Magnificent ornamentation, imaginative details, grandiose miniatures, and particularly creative calendar pages make the Book of Hours of the Bishop Fonseca something completely exceptional. Furthermore, the name of the supposed commissioner is closely linked with Spanish history ca. 1500, he was among the most influential and close confidants of the Catholic Kings.

A Commissioner with Far-Reaching Influence

Archbishop Juan Rodriguez de Fonseca (1451–1524) belonged to the highest circle of politically influential people under the Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. As bishop he held numerous bishop’s sees, including Córdoba and Palencia, before he was named Bishop of Burgos in 1514. Nevertheless, alongside this clerical office, Fonseca frequently undertook important matters of state for the Catholic Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. In this way, he had considerable influence on Spanish history and became an influential and historically significant personality. As such it was almost inevitable that he, like all high-ranking and wealthy people of this time be they burghers, nobles, or kings, commissioned his own magnificent book of hours. This book of hours belonging to Bishop Fonseca is stored today in the Real Seminario de San Carlos Borromeo in Zaragoza and contains true treasures of Flemish illumination.

Particularly High-Quality Painting

Aside from a wonderful calendar, the book of hours brings together 46 full-page miniatures as well as countless smaller miniatures. The pages are covered by broad frames, sometimes with gold background, with adorning flowers and other ornamentation. Numerous heraldic devices of the bishop blanket the book of hours, such as his coat-of-arms. The calendar in particular is illustrated with wonderful full-page miniatures, such as a grape harvest in September or with a bathing scene in June. To be sure, these are everyday scenes as are found in many miniatures from books of hours. Yet here the artists appears to display a special creativity. For example, on one page he staged an entertaining rabbit hunt. The white animals are located in a green landscape within a round fence. Nevertheless, one of the rabbits has escaped and is hunted across a field by a white dog. Entertaining scenes such as this account for the particular charm of the Book of Hours of the Bishop Fonseca.

The Riddle of the Masters of the Miniatures

The Book of Hours of the Bishop Fonseca probably originated ca. 1500. The paintings clearly indicate the style of the Flemish school, its genesis was probably in Ghent or Bruges. Associated with the Flemish style of illumination were such significant names as the Master of the Maria of Burgundy. Indeed, the name of the artist for the Book of Hours of the Bishop Fonseca is still not known today. It is undisputed that the miniatures and the entire artistic furnishings of the book of hours are among the best of what Flemish illumination produced ca. 1500. Currently, the so-called Master of the Book of Hours of 1500 is considered to be the leading artist of the book of hours. Yet, it is not to be ruled out that future research in art history may identify a particularly big name as the master of the miniatures such as Hans Memling, Huga van der Goes, or Gerard David. Such a definitive ascription would finally suit the artistic tier of this object.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Libro de Horas del Obispo Fonseca
Stundenbuch des Bischofs Fonseca
Size / Format
406 pages / 18.5 × 12.5 cm
Origin
Belgium
Date
ca. 1500
Language
Illustrations
46 full-page miniatures, plus over 22 large-sized, complete borders enclosing a text with another small miniature
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Archbishop Juan Rodríguez de Fonseca (1451-1524)
Antonio Fonseca

Available facsimile editions:
Book of Hours of the Bishop Fonseca – Real Seminario de San Carlos Borromeo (Zaragoza, Spain)
Siloé, arte y bibliofilia – Burgos, 2011
Limited Edition: 898 copies
Detail Picture

Book of Hours of the Bishop Fonseca

December: Meat Market

Calendar pages typically have medallions or marginal miniatures containing labors of the month, which usually depict animals being slaughtered for the month of December. The onset of winter meant the loss of both animal feed as well as cold temperatures enabling refrigeration, and thus December was an ideal time for slaughtering, salting, and curing meat in preparation for winter. This scene shows butchers selling cuts of meat to customers, all of whom are richly dressed in bright garments.

Libro de Horas del Obispo Fonseca
Single Page

Book of Hours of the Bishop Fonseca

Adoration of the Magi

This is a superb example of Flemish illumination ca. 1500. The glimmering golden border is filled with naturalistic depictions of flowers, fruits, insects, and birds. Adorned with three decorative initials, one even illustrated with a shadow, we see the beginning of the relevant text.

Adoration scenes became even more popular than the Nativity itself during this time because of the opportunities the composition presented, this is especially true of the exotic Magi. They are not only depicted in various styles of dress, which are subtly accented with gold pen strokes, but have distinctly different ethnic features that are depicted accurately. The background consists of a splendidly dilapidated architecture, a nod to the humble lodgings.

Libro de Horas del Obispo Fonseca
Facsimile Editions

#1 Libro de Horas del Obispo Fonseca

Siloé, arte y bibliofilia – Burgos, 2011
Book of Hours of the Bishop Fonseca – Real Seminario de San Carlos Borromeo (Zaragoza, Spain)
Book of Hours of the Bishop Fonseca – Real Seminario de San Carlos Borromeo (Zaragoza, Spain) Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Publisher: Siloé, arte y bibliofilia – Burgos, 2011
Limited Edition: 898 copies
Binding: Handcrafted leather binding with ironworks in antique silver and slipcase of elm root wood.
Commentary: 1 volume by Adelaida Sagarra Gamazo, Elisa Ruiz García, and Gonzalo Fontana Elboj
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.
Price Category: €€€ (3,000€ - 7,000€)
Edition available
Price: Login here!
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