Book of Hours Leaf


Book of Hours Leaf
Flemish, 1450

Folio with Flight into Egypt (Vespers)

Single leaf

height 14.2 cm
width 10.5 cm

Provenance: Gift of Philip Pirages to John Wilson


Shirleanne Ackerman Gahan, Medieval Portland Capstone Student, Summer 2014
In fifteenth-century Europe, a Book of Hours served as a reminder of the Roman Catholic prayers one should recite throughout the day. After civil strife in France and the English invasion of Paris in 1422, the city of Bruges in the Burgundian Netherlands grew to be one of the largest manufacturers of illuminated manuscripts [1].

This Book of Hours leaf at the John Wilson Special Collections in Portland, Oregon is an example of a page produced in a book of hours in Bruges around 1440. The leaf depicts a miniature of The Flight into Egypt and the beginning lines of the prayer said at the Hour of Vespers. The Flight into Egypt was a standard illustration for Vespers, which would have been honored by the owner of the book in the early evening [2]. The leaf measures 105 mm x 142 mm, which demonstrates an average height and width for books of hours produced in the same time period and region [3]. The edge of the decorated border measures 80 mm x 120 mm and the miniature painting measures 60 mm x 85 mm.

The artist painted the Holy Family surrounded by a green woven fence, perhaps just starting down the road on their escape from Bethlehem in the miniature. The Madonna is dressed in blue robes revealing only her face, hands, and one lock of hair. She sits atop a grey donkey and holds the infant Christ. Both of the figures have gold leaf halos, though the Christ Child's halo has rays of red incorporated into it. Joseph stands to their left, preparing to lead the donkey down the road. Behind the figures is a simply painted landscape consisting of three mountains with clumps of green trees on them. The sky is a vermillion red with tiny gold scrolls and dots, a distinctive trademark of the Masters of the Gold Scrolls workshop [4]. The artist used vibrant shades of blue, green, red, and pink.

Below the scene, the artist painted an elaborate initial "D" and the first five lines of Vespers. The initial is painted in blue with white and light blue accents. The "D" encloses a precisely wrought knot in blue and purple with white highlights. The edges of the initial curl outwards, forming fern-like shapes that are colored green and gold. The entire initial is enclosed in a delicate gold square. The left edge adjoins a blue and pink border surrounding the miniature on three sides. The prayer to the right of the initial reads:

Deus ad uesperas/ in adiutorium/ meum intende/ Domine, ad ad/iuvandum me...

"O God at Vespers, come to my aid/ O Lord, help me…"

All of the letters are written in black, with the exception of "ad uesperas" ("at Vespers"), written in red. The faint red rubric lines beneath the letters and a rubric reaching all the way to the inner margin of the leaf are still visible.

The miniature is framed on three sides by a blue and pink border with delicate white scrollwork and gold leaf applied at the edges. The top of the border is created by a thin arch of gold leaf only. Surrounding this is a wide decorative border of multi-colored acanthus leaves, flowers, and tiny, black, foliate scrolls. Some of the flower and leaf shapes are filled in with gold leaf. The plants grow from two tiny pink pots at the top of the miniature border and one red pot hanging upside down at the bottom of the miniature. The inner border closest to the margin has no floral decoration.

A piece of the vellum is missing from the bottom left corner of the page; luckily none of the illumination was lost. There is some smudging of the fine black scrollwork in the upper right section of the floral border. The miniature appears to have experienced a crease and light water damage at the feet of the painted donkey. One can see the parchment showing through the green paint of the grass where the damage occurred.

The Flight into Egypt was a standard illustration for the Hour of Vespers, though sometimes an image depicting The Massacre of the Innocents was used instead. [5] The Flight into Egypt is described in the New Testament Book of Matthew. After the three Magi visited the Holy Family in Bethlehem shortly after Christ's birth, an angel visited Joseph in a dream and said: "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him."[6] It is believed that the Holy Family took flight in the evening, therefore, this somber event is commemorated during the evening at Vespers. In fact, all of the events in the Nativity Cycle correspond with the time of day in which they occurred in the life of the Mother of God and Christ [7].

The first five lines of Vespers appear on the recto of the John Wilson Book of Hours leaf. The opening prayer continues on the verso of the leaf, followed by Psalm 110, lines 1-4. The prayers are written in eighteen lines with the rubrication still visible in reddish-brown ink and measure 50 mm x 78 mm. The parchment is so thin that the painted decorations from the other side are visible around and behind the lettering. The prayers continue:

Festina Gloria patri et filio
et Spiritui Sancto Sicut erat
in principio et in nunc et Semper
et in Saecula Saeculorum amen
Dan dum esset Psalmus
Dixit dominus domino me
o Sede adextris meis Donec po
nam inimicos tuos scabellum
pedum tuorum Virgam virtu
tis tue emittet dominus ex Sion.
dominare in medio inimicorum
tuorum Tecum principium in
die me virtutis tue insplendori
bus Sanctorum ex utero ante
luciferum geniu te Iuravit
dominus et non peinitebit eum
tu es sacerdos secundu ineternum
fecundum ordinem melchise...

...quickly. Glory be to the Father and Son
and Holy Spirit as it was
in the beginning, is now,
and ever shall be. Amen.
Dan[iel] in the Psalms:
The Lord said to my Lord:
Sit thou at my right hand: Until I make thy
enemies thy footstool.
The Lord will send the staff
of thy power from Zion:
Rule in the midst of thy enemies.
With thee is the principality in the day of thy strength, in the splendor
of the saints, from the womb before
the day star I begot thee.
The Lord hath sworn, and he will not repent:
Thou art a priest forever according to
The productive order of Melchise[dech]...

The majority of the lettering is written in black ink. The initial letters are decorated at the beginning of each verse of the psalm, though they are not all painted in the same way. The initial "G" in "Gloria" and initial "S" in "Sicut" are slightly enlarged and written in bright blue ink. Thin, straight red lines form borders around the letters. There are delicate circles and some curling flourishes around the tiny initials. The fifth line begins with the abbreviation "Dan," where the "D" is the most elaborately decorated initial on this side of the leaf. It is painted in blue, purple, and gold leaf, in a similar style to the initial on the recto. The remainder of the name is written in red, as well as the word "Psalmus." In the following verses of the psalm, initials "D" and "T" are painted with the same red/blue motif as the previous lines. In the two verses beginning with initials "V" and "I", the artist wrote the actual initial in gold leaf, then created a border with tiny flourishes in dark blue ink. The vibrant colors and gold leaf enliven the text, making the passage pleasing to read.

The Masters of the Gold Scrolls are an elusive group of artists who practiced in the southern Netherlands from the 1420s through the 1440s [8]. Their work is represented in a wide body of illuminated manuscripts that currently reside in public and private collections all over the world. One can see a range of styles in the miniatures and the border decorations, yet they all typically feature the same vibrant colors, "doll-like" delicate features in the figures, and distinctive gold scrollwork over a brilliant red sky. None of the artists associated with this group are known individually. The miniature paintings and border decorations are likely by different artists, as was a common practice in Flemish workshops [9].

This manuscript leaf was published with three other leaves from the same book of hours in the Phillip J. Pirages Fine Books & Medieval Manuscripts Catalogue no. 46 in 2001 before it was gifted to the John Wilson Special Collections. In The Flight into Egypt and the other miniatures (The Visitation, The Annunciation to the Shepherds, and The Adoration of the Magi) the artist included a bright green, wattled fence. This fence is a unique addition by the artist and most likely appears in almost all the other miniatures from this particular book of hours. The fencing appears in at least three other complete manuscripts, which are identified as having been painted by a Master of the Gold Scrolls workshop: MS Grisebach 4 in the Kunstbibliothek, Berlin; a book of hours Lot 15357 sold in 2013 in London by Sam Fogg; and MS Canonici Liturgical 91 in the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

The book of hours sold by Sam Fogg, 2013, was previously cataloged as BOH 76 by Les Enluminures gallery. In the catalog entry, this book of hours was directly compared with MS Grisebach 4 and both were described as creating a "distinct subgroup...within the vast oeuvre of the Masters of the Gold Scrolls" [10].

The Bodleian MS apparently has been stamped by either the miniaturist or another member of the workshop; these rare stamps are often barely visible in the margin of some leaves known to have been painted in Bruges from 1427-1457 [11]. The tiny, often circular ink stamps were used to prove that the illuminator was registered in the city of Bruges. Previously, a book manufacturer might buy single illuminated leaves produced in other cities and include them in a book created in Bruges. The local illuminators complained of economic hardships and the government passed a law requiring the stamp and sale of whole manuscripts (instead of single leaves) in 1427 [12]. Conversely, some illuminations were exported from Bruges to other cities in the 1440s [13]. There does not appear to be a stamp on the John Wilson Book of Hours leaf, but closer examination with a microscope could prove otherwise.

Unfortunately, many books of hours surviving today are incomplete as well as the catalog records of them. The three books of hours mentioned above are listed in the Luxury Bound database, which houses over 3,800 records of Flemish illuminated manuscripts from 1400-1550 [14]. Luxury Bound lists just under 200 complete manuscripts and single leaves known to have been illuminated by the Masters of the Gold Scrolls as of February 2013, but several are in unknown locations. According to Les Enluminures, many illuminations were cut from manuscripts during the 19th century and sold as separate works of art [15]. Similar to this Book of Hours leaf in John Wilson Special Collections, many others are stored individually and may never be reunited with the remaining folios of their Book of Hours.

[1] Hanno Wijsman, Luxury Bound: Illustrated Manuscript Production and Noble and Princely Book Ownership in the Burgundian Netherlands (1400-1550), trans. Lee Preedy (Turnhout: Brepols, 2010) 38.
[2] Roger S. Wieck, Time Sanctified: The Book of Hours in Medieval Art and Life (New York: George Braziller, in association with the Walters Art Gallery, 1988) 28.
[3] Wijsman, Luxury Bound, 110.
[4] Melanie E. Gifford, "Pattern and Style in a Flemish Book of Hours: Walters Ms. 239." The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery, vol. 45 (1987): 89.
[5] Wieck, Time Sanctified, 65.
[6] Matthew 2:13-15, English Standard Version.
[7] De Hamel, A History of Illuminated Manuscripts, 192.
[8] Wijsman, Luxury Bound, 63.
[9] James Douglas Farquhar, "Manuscript Production and Evidence for Localizing and Dating Fifteenth-Century Books of Hours: Walters Ms. 239," The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery, vol. 45 (1987): 52.
[10] "Book of Hours no. 76," The Book of Hours Website of Les Enluminures, accessed July 2014,
[11] Saskia Van Bergen, "The Use of Stamps in Bruges Book Production," in Books of Hours Reconsidered, ed. Sandra Hindman and James H. Marrow (London: Harvey Miller, 2013) 325.
[12] Van Bergen, "The Use of Stamps," 324.
[13] Farquhar, "Manuscript Production," 45.
[14] "Luxury Bound," Traitement électronique des manuscrits et des archives (TELMA), Last modified February 2013,
[15] "Learn more about Books of Hours," Les Enluminures, accessed July 2014


"Book of Hours no. 76." The Book of Hours Website of Les Enluminures. Accessed July 2014.

De Hamel, Christopher. A History of Illuminated Manuscripts. London: Phaidon Press, 1994.

Farquhar, James Douglas. "Manuscript Production and Evidence for Localizing and Dating Fifteenth-Century Books of Hours: Walters Ms. 239." The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery, vol. 45 (1987): 44-88.

Gifford, E. Melanie. "Pattern and Style in a Flemish Book of Hours: Walters Ms. 239." The Journal of the Walters Art Gallery, vol. 45 (1987): 89-102.

"Learn more about Books of Hours." Les Enluminures. Accessed July 2014.

"Luxury Bound," Traitement électronique des manuscrits et des archives (TELMA). Last modified February 2013.

Van Bergen, Saskia. "The Use of Stamps in Bruges Book Production," in Books of Hours Reconsidered, ed. Sandra Hindman and James H. Marrow, 323-337. London: Harvey Miller, 2013.

Wieck, Roger S. Painted Prayers: The Book of Hours in Medieval and Renaissance Art. New York: George Braziller, in Association with the Pierpont Morgan Library, 1997.

Wieck, Roger S. Time Sanctified: The Book of Hours in Medieval Art and Life. New York: George Braziller, inAssociation with the Walters Art Gallery, 1988.

Wijsman, Hanno. Luxury Bound: Illustrated Manuscript Production and Noble and Princely Book Ownership in the Burgundian Netherlands (1400-1550). trans. Lee Preedy, Turnhout: Brepols, 2010.