Isabella Breviary

Isabella Breviary Facsimile Edition

Flanders — Last decade of the 15th century

She sent Christopher Columbus exploring: one of the most beautiful and – with 1,000 pages – most extensive Flemish manuscripts for the Queen of Spain

  1. This prayer book for the Spanish Queen is one of the most beautifully illuminated manuscripts of the Flemish school

  2. It is the work of great artists like the Master of the Dresden Prayer Book, Gérard Horenbout, and Gérard David

  3. Each of the 1,000+ pages is adorned with rich marginalia, pictures like panel-paintings, or ornamental initials

Isabella Breviary

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Isabella Breviary

The Isabella Breviary was produced in Flanders at the end of the 15th century. Six unusually gifted masters illustrated the manuscript, among them were the famous Master of the Dresden Prayer Book and Gérard Horenbout. The breviary is probably the most beautifully illuminated manuscript of the Flemish school and distinguishes itself through its inconceivable wealth of creativity.

Isabella Breviary

Among the numerous, breathtaking illuminated manuscripts of the Flemish masters, the Isabella Breviary is the greatest treasure by far. The gorgeous manuscript was created by six different illuminators in the most luxurious manner. A breviary is an extremely elaborate book of hours with a larger body of text than normal. Each of the more than 1,000 pages of the work is charmingly illuminated. Some of the most popular illuminators of the Flemish school were involved in the formation of the magnificent codex, Gérard Horenbout among them, whose miniatures equal the panel paintings of the great Dutch masters in their quality.

Isabella the Catholic

Queen Isabella of Castile was a self-confident, goal-oriented ruler. In her youth she enjoyed an excellent education in the Spanish Monastery of Santa Ana in Avila. She could read and write and spoke several languages fluently. As Queen of Castile she made the explorer Christopher Columbus’s voyage to India possible, during which he discovered America and thereby began the Spanish colonization of the continent. She received the epithet “the Catholic” because of her ardent faith and piety. The queen used her wondrous Breviary for private prayer and meditation.

Royal Décor

The breviary’s unbelievable variety of design is still staggering to the beholder today. The full-page, painting-like miniatures show a dramatic storyline, which can be fully understood without text. The expressive faces and the lively gestures of the depicted persons testify to the unbelievable talent of the masters involved. A picture cycle about the construction and destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem is especially dynamic. Numerous additional biblical scenes were portrayed in a brilliant variety of colors in full-page pictures. Equally worthy of note as the full-page miniatures are the rich frame decorations of the work. The varying bordures show perfect illusions of scattered flowers, columns entwined in plants, gilded foliage, as well as birds and small insects.

A Flemish Treasure

The gifted and famous illuminators of Belgium are responsible for the staggeringly beautiful design of the breviary. The so-called Master of the Dresden Prayer Book was the work’s head painter. He lent his scenes life and movement in an incomparable manner. The second master involved was Gérard Horenbout, who had already illustrated the Book of Hours of Queen Johana of Castile. His pictures distinguish themselves through a brilliant color selection and an exceptionally skilled depiction of various substances. The third master, Gérard David, made probably the most important scene of the manuscript with his Birth of Christ. Together with the staff of their studios, the three artists created what may well be the most valuable treasure of Flemish illumination. The astonishing work is housed, well-protected, in the British Library in London.


Alternative Titles
Breviary of Isabel the Catholic
Breviario de Isabel la Católica
Brevier von Isabella von Kastilien
Brevier von Isabella der Katholischen
Breviario d’Isabella la Cattolica
Le Bréviaire d'Isabelle la Catholique
Breviário de Isabel, a Católica
Size / Format
1,046 pages / 23.0 × 16.0 cm
Last decade of the 15th century
Gothic Textura Rotunda
All pages illuminated
Francisco de Rojas
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Queen Isabel of Castile (1451–1504), the "Catholic"
William Boone
John Dent

Available facsimile editions:
Isabella Breviary – Add. Ms. 18851 – British Library (London, United Kingdom) Facsimile Edition
M. Moleiro Editor – Barcelona, 2010
Limited Edition: 987 copies
Detail Picture

Isabella Breviary

February: Chopping Wood

In the Middle Ages, there was little to do during the winter months aside from staying warm and surviving until the next spring. As such, the labor of the month for February often shows scenes of people either warming themselves by the fire or gathering wood. The two men on the left in this scene are tying kindling into bundles while the two men on the right use an axe and curved knife to cut it. On the other side of the wattle fence, a fifth figure looks out into the winter landscape.

Breviario de Isabel la Católica
Single Page

Isabella Breviary

King David on his Deathbed

King David died at the age of 70 after having reigned for 40 years, an event presented here within a beautiful but foreboding golden frame with white tendrils that have been cut and are dead. A peacock, two song birds, and various flowers and fruits accompany these porcelain-looking branches. On his deathbed, David recalls the building of the first altar on the site of the future Temple.

David’s vision is depicted in the large window, and in the distance a battle scene plays out, either one of David’s own victories, or an image of the revenge his son and successor Solomon will take on his enemies. The King’s doctors examine the color of his urine and consult a medical text as a pregnant chambermaid brings a bowl of water with which to wash him.

Breviario de Isabel la Católica
Facsimile Editions

#1 Breviario de Isabel la Católica

M. Moleiro Editor – Barcelona, 2010
Isabella Breviary – Add. Ms. 18851 – British Library (London, United Kingdom) Facsimile Edition
Isabella Breviary – Add. Ms. 18851 – British Library (London, United Kingdom) Facsimile Edition Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Publisher: M. Moleiro Editor – Barcelona, 2010
Limited Edition: 987 copies
Binding: Embossed, brown leather
Commentary: 1 volume by Scot McKendrick, Elisa Ruiz García and Nigel Morgan

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: €€€€€ (over 10,000€)
Edition available
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