Sobieski Hours

Sobieski Hours Facsimile Edition

Paris (France) — Ca. 1420

A magnificent work by the famous Bedford Master and the Master of the Munich Legenda Aurea: 60 full-page miniatures and more than 400 illustrated scenes for the Countess of Burgundy

  1. A highpoint of late Gothic illumination supposedly commissioned by Margaret of Burgundy (1393–1441) ca. 1420

  2. The Fastolf Master, Master of the Munich Legenda Aurea, and the famous Bedford Master all contributed to it

  3. 60 full-page miniatures, 400+ illustrated scenes, 66 large-format, and countless smaller historiated initials

Sobieski Hours

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Sobieski Hours

One of the greatest works of Gothic illumination was a collaboration of some of the greatest French masters of the 15th century: the Sobieski Hours. Named after its 17th century owner, King John III Sobieski of Poland (1629–96), it is now one of the most prized possessions of the British Royal Library. It contains 60 full-page miniatures containing 400+ individual scenes, in addition to 66 large, historiated initials and countless smaller ones. In addition to the Bedford Master, since such comprehensive décor could hardly be handled by a single artist, the Fastolf Master and the Master of the Munich Legenda Aurea also contributed significantly to the illumination. The work combines the typical texts of a book of hours with various saint’s lives and is counted among the finest illuminated manuscripts to survive the Middle Ages.

Sobieski Hours

A highpoint of late Gothic illumination was supposedly commissioned by Margaret of Burgundy (1393–1441) ca. 1420: the Sobieski Hours. It is believed to have been a wedding present for her union with Arthur III (1393–1458), the Duke of Brittany. The 468-page parchment manuscript contains prayers in French and Latin for private devotion, which are complimented by an unbelievable 60 full-page miniatures, 400+ illustrated scenes, as well as 66 large-format and countless smaller historiated initials. This imposing mass of illumination could not have been tackled by a single artist, and actually, the three leading masters of their time participated in the lavish design over an extended period.

Many Helping Hands

A large number of miniatures are attributed to the famous Bedford Master, who was active in Paris between 1405 and 1465. Since it is unlikely that he could have painted all the depictions, he probably gave compositions to his assistants or presented them with models. Furthermore, the Fastolf Master and the Master of the Munich Legenda Aurea also made equally important contributions to the decoration. The former worked in Paris and Normandy, just like the second, whose activity in Paris between 1430 and 1440 can be proven. Although he was a disciple of the Bedford Master, he developed his own conspicuous style. Nonetheless, although the stylistic details of the respective masters is discernable, the artistry is surprisingly uniform and harmonious, it is characterized by carefully modeled human figures and draperies.

A Medieval Picture Story

It is astonishing with what attention to detail and artistic virtuosity the splendid miniatures were painted. Two styles of composition are present. In the earlier sections, especially those dealing with the Hours of the Virgin, the scenes have a more holistic perspective and are depicted panoramically with sweeping landscapes, fantastical architectures, and three-dimensional interior spaces. Later sections are distinctly more intimate, divided into six or nine individual scenes with golden frames. Precious gold and silver leaf and high quality paints like lapis lazuli were used throughout by all of the artists involved. All of the miniatures and marginalia display an artistic mastery that makes the codex a milestone of art history.

A Turbulent History

Despite the incredible artistry of the manuscript, or perhaps because of it, this codex has a turbulent ownership history about which little is known. The great artistry and the masters involved with its creation point to a high-ranking patron nonetheless. Although it has since fallen out of favor as a theory, it was originally thought to have been a wedding present for Margaret of Burgundy (1393–1442), sister of Duke Philip the Good (1396–1467), upon her union with Duke Arthur III of Brittany (1393–1458). It is known, however, that the codex came into the possession of King John III Sobieski of Poland (1629–96), hero of the Battle of Vienna (1683), sometime in the 17th century. It passed to the British royal family through the marriage of his granddaughter Maria Clementina Sobieska to James Francis Edward Stuart (1688–1766), the son of the deposed King James II, called the “Old Pretender”, who then bequeathed it in 1803 to the future King George IV (1762–1830). Today, it is counted as one of the most coveted treasures of the Royal Library.


Alternative Titles
Heures Sobieski
Size / Format
468 pages / 28.6 × 19.7 cm
Ca. 1420
60 full-page miniautres, 400+ composed scenes, and 66 historiated as well as countless smaller initials
Book of hours also featuring saint's legends
Probably Margaret of Burgundy
Artist / School
Previous Owners
John III Sobieski, King of Poland
James Francis Edward ­Stuart
King George IV (King of England)
Henry Benedict Stuart

Available facsimile editions:
Sobieski Hours – Royal Library at Windsor Castle – Royal Library at Windsor Castle (Windsor, United Kingdom) Facsimile Edition
Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Lucerne, 2016
Limited Edition: 680 copies
Detail Picture

Sobieski Hours


On the mountain of Golgotha, Christ is shown being prepared for his Crucifixion. Roman legionaries are stripping his clothes from him, exposing his body which is scarred from being flagellated. Dismas and Gestas, the two thieves crucified alongside Jesus, await their fate in white shirts with their hands tied behind their backs. A man stands lazily with a ladder as nails are driven into the hands and feet of the Redeemer and another digs a hole wherein the cross will be erected.

Das Sobieski-Stundenbuch
Single Page

Das Sobieski-Stundenbuch

February: Chopping Wood

Artful calendar pages were a common feature of illuminated books of hours in the Late Middle Ages. Aside from their practical use, they are also decorated with so-called “labors of the month” that offer a glimpse of everyday life during that time of year. The text, figures, and filigree tendril border were all created with the finest paints and gold leaf.

February was a time of great boredom for medieval peasants as there was not much to do aside from tend the animals and keep warm. As such, we see one man chopping down a tree and another warming his feet by the fire in what is probably a woodshed. He is flanked by David and the Gemini symbol on the left and St. Andrew the Apostle on the right, pictured with the X-shaped cross that is named after him.

Das Sobieski-Stundenbuch
Facsimile Editions

#1 Das Sobieski-Stundenbuch

Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Lucerne, 2016

Publisher: Quaternio Verlag Luzern – Lucerne, 2016
Limited Edition: 680 copies
Binding: Exact copy of the original red velvet binding with two decorative gold medallions, 8 decorative gold cornerpieces, and two gold clasps Acrylic presentational case
Commentary: 1 volume by Jenny Stratford
Languages: English, French, German
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. Aside from ist famous owners and the extraordinary artistry of its miniatures, the Sobieski Hours is distinguished by the dynamic and engaging methods of narration employed by the masters responsible for its design.
Price Category: €€€€ (7,000€ - 10,000€)
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