Visconti Book of Hours

Visconti Book of Hours Facsimile Edition

Probably Milan (Italy) — Around 1390, completed after 1428

Created by Giovannino de' Grassi and Belbello da Pavia: an expressive illuminated prayer book in two volumes for the Duke of Milan

  1. A two-volume book of hours commissioned by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the Duke of Milan, with 162 full-page miniatures, richly decorated with gold leaf

  2. Work on these masterpieces began ca. 1390 by the exceptional master Giovannino de' Grassi (ca. 1350–98)

  3. After the unexpected death of de' Grassi in 1428, this image-focused prayer book was completed by Belbello da Pavia (d. ca. 1470)

Visconti Book of Hours

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

The Visconti Book of Hours was commissioned by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, who ruled Milan as duke from 1351–1402 and inter alia laid the foundation for Milan Cathedral. His love of books originated with his wife Isabella, the sister of Jean Duc de Berry. Visconti enlisted Giovannino de Grassi, one of the most talented painters of his time, to artistically decorate his magnificent Book of Hours. When the latter died, Belbello da Pavia continued the work, which was completed under Gian Galeazzo's son ca. 1430. The result was a two-volume masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance and one of the most valuable manuscripts of European illumination.

Visconti Book of Hours

The long tradition of Italian books of hours produced some treasures that still leave the beholder in astonishment and admiration today. The excellent Book of Hours of Gian Galeazoo Visconti represents a jewel of book art, which is unanimously judged today as the greatest feat among the manuscripts of the Italian Renaissance. The ostentatious work for private devotion contains fascinating book decoration in excess. It is adorned with 38 half- to full-page miniatures , 90 historiated initials, and outstanding marginal depictions.

The Rule of the Most Powerful of the Visconti

Gian Galeazzo Visconti was the most powerful scion of the famous dynastic family. He was known as a capable and economically minded head of state and was considered to be the richest prince of his time. The cornerstone ceremony of the Cathedral of Milan occurred in Gian Galeazzo’s name. He patronized education in Italy by financially subsidizing universities and donating libraries. Numerous famous works of art and precious illuminated manuscripts originated from the commission of the art-loving ruler. The prince’s famous book of hours represented the highpoint of his inestimably valuable book collection.

Two Masters, Two Artistic Epochs

The exceptionally rich illustrated prayer book was composed in two volumes. The first volume of the manuscript was designed by the famous illuminator Giovanni de Grassi in collaboration with a few of his most talented students. The artists began with work on the manuscript ca. 1390. They had only been able to complete a few pages of the first volume when de Grassi died unexpectedly in the year 1402. Work on the codex was first resumed in the year 1412. Anonymous artists realized the design of the work based on the example of the remaining sketches of the deceased master. The second volume of the monumental document was made by a gifted illuminator by the name of Belbello da Pavia. The masterpiece was completed after 1428.

Unmistakable Style

The magnificent manuscript enchants with its unbelievable creative variety. 34 pages of the work are embellished with full-page illustrations. The pages show dainty depictions of biblical motifs in outstandingly vivid colors. Some of the pictures have a golden background. Splendid marginal embellishments of flowers and plant tendrils frame the miniatures. Giovanni de Grassi’s style is unmistakable. Employing transparent and intensive colors, some of them somewhat muffled, or rather diffusely lit, he created storybook landscapes with highly naturalized scenery. His successors attempted to duly model the art of the great master in this manuscript. The miniatures of Belbello de Pavia also distinguish themselves through their unmistakable style. His art is characterized by a loving richness of detail and by images of the finest jewels and valuables.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Libro d'Ore Visconti
El libro de Horas Visconti
Stundenbuch der Visconti
Size / Format
2 volumes - 636 pages / 25.0 × 17.9 cm
Origin
Italy
Date
Around 1390, completed after 1428
Style
Language
Illustrations
34 full-page miniatures, numerous half-page miniatures, historiated initials and marginal illustrations
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Dukes of Visconti di Modrone
Baron Horace Landau
Madame Hugo Finaly

Available facsimile editions:
Visconti Book of Hours – Mss. BR 397 e LF 22 – Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze (Florence, Italy) Facsimile Edition
Franco Cosimo Panini Editore – Modena, 2003
Limited Edition: 500 copies
Detail Picture

Visconti Book of Hours

”O” Initial – The Toil of Adam and Eve

This splendid historiated initial is surrounded by a blue-gold checkered background and four red dragons. “Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them. Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’— therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken.” (Gen. 3:21-23)

Libro d'Ore Visconti
Single Page

Visconti Book of Hours

God Confronts Eve

“And the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’” (Gen 3:13). This magnificent historiated initial depicts Eve after she and Adam have eaten of the forbidden fruit and earned God’s wrath. In shame of her nakedness, Eve covers herself with a handful of leaves and points to the deceitful serpent with a human face.

Six Visconti shields mounted on a green Gothic architecture flank the miniature. Two white doves are caged in the red and blue columns that line the right and left margins. The bas de page miniature portrays a cherub with gold leaf wings sitting on the back of a lion, holding the beast’s mane with his left hand as he prepares to strike with a dagger in his right.

Libro d'Ore Visconti
Facsimile Editions

#1 Libro d'Ore Visconti

Visconti Book of Hours – Mss. BR 397 e LF 22 – Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze (Florence, Italy) Facsimile Edition
Visconti Book of Hours – Mss. BR 397 e LF 22 – Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze (Florence, Italy) Facsimile Edition Copyright Photos: Ziereis Facsimiles

Publisher: Franco Cosimo Panini Editore – Modena, 2003
Limited Edition: 500 copies
Binding: Red velvet binding with two elaborated silver clasps
Commentary: 2 volumes by Milvia Bollati, Francesca Manzari, Evelyn Welch, Adriana Di Domenico
Language: Italian
2 volumes: 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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