We are delighted to announce an important recent acquisition made possible by Katharine V. Kilgour's generous gift in memory of her father Raymond L. Kilgour: a manuscript containing the texts of a Book of Hours and a Psalter. Written on parchment in Latin and French, it was exquisitely illuminated by one of the leading miniaturists working in Paris in the first two decades of the sixteenth century: Jean Coene IV.
Our manuscript consists of 256 parchment leaves encompassing a Book of Hours and a Psalter. Usually, the central text of the Book of Hours is the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin (or Hours of the Virgin), which consists of a series of psalms, hymns, and other religious texts, all of which are recited according to the Divine Office’s cycle of eight monastic hours. Other typical elements of a Book of Hours include a calendar of holy and saints’ days, selections from the four Gospels, the Hours of the Holy Cross and Hours of the Holy Spirit, Prayers to Mary, Penitential Psalms, and the Office of the Dead. However, the content of our manuscript is not typical of the traditional Book of Hours: it leaves out the Hours of the Virgin, but includes less-known Hours such as the Holy Trinity, the Angels, and the Conception of the Virgin. In fact, one could also call this manuscript a Psalter (Book of Psalms) with the addition of short Hours and prayers. While both Books of Hours and Psalters were originally designed for the liturgy of the Church, from the mid-thirteenth to the mid-sixteenth century, wealthy lay people commissioned them for private devotion. Like our manuscript, some of these devotional books were lavishly illuminated by the best artists of the age, turning these pious texts into highly treasured works of art.
This book of Hours & Psalter was made in Paris around 1505-1515 for the use of the Dominican convent of St Louis de Poissy. It is very likely that the original owner of the manuscript was a Dominican nun, as suggested by her appearance in the miniature (see above), “Lamentation over the Dead Christ”, which opens the Little Office of the Passion. She is depicted uttering the words, O Mater Dei Memento Mei, inscribed on a scroll near her mouth.
Unquestionably, the outstanding feature of this manuscript is the presence of four large miniatures attributed to Jean Coene IV. They are painted in bright colors and highlighted with liquid gold, which is also generously used for the body and background of carefully decorated initial letters throughout the text. Two of these miniatures (see above), “Meeting of the Golden Age” and “King David in Prayer”, are framed with decorated architectural borders, further emphasizing the effect of a three-dimensional space.