Books of Hours

The book of hours, the most beloved type of medieval manuscript, is a specially-designed prayer book for personal use both in private and in public masses based upon the “offices” or official prayers that were to be said at different intervals of the day – hence the name.

These were typically made for laypersons in artists’ workshops rather than monastic scriptoria, and as such the actual wording of the prayers contained in them can vary widely from region to region. Most were small enough that they could be carried on one’s person, like the Hours of Jeanne D’Evreux and were decorated in such a way that they were also fashion accessories. As such, they were highly personalized and usually featured a dedication page with their escutcheon and might even be portrayed in one or more miniatures in the text.

Some of the first big-name artists like the Limbourg Brothers, Simon Bening, and Gerard Horenbout emerged as a result of this popularity, although some of the greatest masters remain anonymous, known only by their names of convenience. The personalized book of hours is a useful window into the lives and perceptions of some of the most important figures of the Middle Ages.

Bedford Hours

Owner Portrait

Although consisting of biblical texts and prayers to be said throughout the day, books of hours were intended for laypeople, usually those who could have them made according to their personal specifications. One such person was Anne of Burgundy, who either received or gave this manuscript as a wedding present to mark her union with John of Lancaster, the Duke of Bedford. 

Duchess Anne is kneeling before St. Anne in this masterpiece, part of arguably the finest book of hours ever created and a product of the famous Bedford Workshop. It is also evidence of a rare love match between the powerful English regent and the wealthy Burgundian princess, shown dressed in the finest brocade. Miniatures of biblical figures and her coat of arms fill out the page. 

The Authors