Breviary Leaf


Breviary Leaf    

French, ca. 1400

Language: Latin

height 10 cm | width 8 cm

Portland State University Library Special Collections, Mss 31



Tim Strikwerda, Medieval Portland Capstone Student, 2012
This breviary leaf dates to ca. 1400 C.E. and was produced in northern France, probably at an urban center of manuscript production such as Paris or Amiens.[1] The manuscript text is from the Canticle of Isaias the Prophet.[2] (Isaiah 12) which was to be read at Lauds on Mondays.[3] The text is written on parchment in gold ink with blue and red ink used for the illuminated letters. Ruled in a single column and divided into seventeen lines the leaf follows the tradition in manuscript production of marking the beginning of the verso and recto sections with an enlarged illuminated letter. A total of seven illuminated letters are rendered on each side of the leaf corresponding to the seven virtues of the Catholic Church.[4] The medieval Latin text is written in a version of Gothic book hand.[5] Paleographically the minims within the script correspond to a decorative form of Gothic script known as quadrata that was considered a hierarchically superior form of script that commanded a higher price.[6]

A floral design emanates from a solid gold boundary on the right side on the verso and from the left on the recto. The design is a simple one of ivy interspersed with roses and gold leaves that moves centrifugally up and down the page. Ivy leaf designs similar to the one seen on this breviary leaf had been devised by Parisian illuminators earlier in the 14th century as a means to decorate the margins with a sacred plant.[7] The exact illumination technique used in this piece was a more cost-effective Parisian, late fourteenth-century development where one ink line would serve as the stem and small flowers, leaves, and berries were interspersed emanating from it throughout the border.[8]

Historiographically, this breviary leaf was composed during a lull in the Hundred Years War. Manuscript production in northern France, particularly Paris, had suffered as a result of the frequent fighting of the war but had begun to rebound by the middle of the fifteenth century.[9] While many talented and prolific illuminators, such as the Limbourg Brothers and the numerous devotees of the Bedford Trend, were active in this period, it is difficult to authoritatively determine who authored and illuminated this piece. Stylistically it is commensurable with pages from other contemporaneous French manuscripts [10] such as the Spitz Hours, however, the absence of more distinguishing features such as grotesques or figure marginalia (common in more richly illuminated breviaries and books of hours) makes such determinations difficult.[11] Nevertheless, this breviary leaf is part of a large corpus of work produced in the late medieval ages that showcases the evolution of illumination techniques and their application to the extensive market of religious manuscripts.

[1] Susie Nash, Between France and Flanders: Manuscript Illumination in Amiens in the Fifteenth Century, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999), 40-41.
[2] "Canticle", Catholic Encyclopedia,
[3] "The Prophecy of Isaias", Latin Vulgate,
[4] Rosemond Tuve, "Notes on the Virtues and Vices," Journal of Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 27: 44.
[5] Michelle P. Brown, A Guide to Western Historical Scripts from Antiquity to 1600, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), 80.
[6] Ibid., 84,
[7] Celia Fisher, The Medieval Flower Book, (London: The British Library, 2007), 10-11.
[8] Rowan Watson, Illuminated Manuscripts and Their Makers, (London: V&A Publications, 2003), 33.
[9] Richard H. Rouse and Mary A. Rouse, Manuscripts and Their Makers: Commercial Book Production in Medieval Paris 1200-1500, (Harvey Miller Publications, 2000), 285-6.
[10] Gregory T. Clark, The Spitz Masters: A Parisian Book of Hours (Los Angeles: Getty Museum Studies on Art, 2003), 32.
[11] Christopher de Hamel, The British Library Guide to Manuscript Illumination, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), 32.



Regan Moore, Medieval Portland Capstone Student, Winter 2005
This Breviary leaf from c. 1400 was produced in Northern France and is made of parchment with ink and gold leaf. The Latin text is written in a Gothic book hand script. The front side of the manuscript is decorated with a simple penned vine and flower design, with the flower petals colored blue and red, with alternating gold petals. The beginning letter of each new sentence is illuminated in with gold, and blue and red ink. The reverse side begins with the Song of Ezechias [Isaiah 38], which is found in the Office of the Dead, and was to be read at Lauds on Tuesdays.