Prière à la Vierge à l'Enfant

Illuminated manuscript

$140 $

‘Prayer to the Virgin and Child’
Illumination from Les Heures de Catherine de Clèves.
Frame: 12 in x 16 in.

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A masterpiece of illumination (about 1440)

The Hours of Catherine of Cleves is one of the most lavishly illuminated manuscripts of the 15th century. This Latin prayer book was produced in Utrecht, earliest 1434 but more likely around 1440*, by an anonymous Dutch illuminator known today as the ‘Master of Catherine of Cleves’.

Designed to help worshippers structure their prayers, books of hours were popular throughout the Middle Ages and particularly by the 15th century, as they provided wealthy families the opportunity to commission lavish works of art by the great artists of their day. This book was commissioned by Catherine of Cleves (1417-1476) after her marriage to Arnold, Duke of Guelders in January 1430. Their marriage would soon prove unhappy, despite the birth of her six children. The book, with its richly detailed illuminations, required many years of work to complete.

Illumination of the 15th century of A radiant Madonna and Child

The 357 folios that make up the manuscript contain all of the prayers one would expect to find in a book of hours ─and more. There are 157 colourful miniatures representing the lives of Christ, the Virgin, and the saints, painted in gouache and enhanced with gold. However, the originality of the work lies chiefly in the richly ornamented borders, which are filled with a wide variety of iconography inspired by everyday life. Alongside religious scenes, the margins display decorative motifs comprising figures as varied as birds, fish, fruit, jewellery and even furniture ─all elements borrowed from secular life and which were not generally seen in religious texts. These appear often in the form of trompe-l’oeil effects, characteristic of the style of the Master of Catherine of Cleves. There are also demonic figures and a representation of hell found within the pages, which is rare in this type of work.

A radiant Madonna and Child

The Hours of Catherine of Cleves opens with a full-page miniature representing one of its most dazzling illuminations. It illustrates a series of prayers called the Hours of the Virgin, starting with morning prayers. Catherine of Cleves is depicted in a red dress, praying before the Virgin and Child with her book of hours in her hands. A scroll rises from the book towards the Virgin, bearing a plea inscribed in Latin: O MATER DEI MEMENTO MEI**. Set against a richly hued Gothic building, the Virgin is represented standing, against a golden mandorla and poised on a crescent moon*** under the benevolent gaze of two musical angels. The coats of arms painted at the corners of the page and beneath the Virgin belong to the family and ancestors of Catherine of Cleves. Her own family arms appear prominently throughout the book in relation to those of her husband, perhaps in an act of defiance towards the Duke of Guelders. On this page there are also two drawings of birds hidden amongst the floral decorations of the margins, an owl on the right and a rooster at the bottom.

A manuscript lost and found, then reassembled

Catherine of Cleves allegedly gave the manuscript to her contemporary Ermengard von Lochhorst, after which it disappeared from records for four centuries. It was not until 1856 that it resurfaced, when the Parisian book dealer Jacques Joseph Techener put it up for sale at 15,000 francs. Purchased by the Duke of Arenburg, it remained in his family until 1957, when it entered Alastair Bradley Martin's Guennol Collection in New York.

Medieval manuscript of Saint Mary

In 1963, Morgan curator John Plummer received another Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, sent by an anonymous European collector and bought by the Morgan. Plummer obtained authorization to consult the manuscript in the Guennol collection and proceeded to compare the two, which revealed that not only were the two manuscripts by the same artist, but also that they complemented one another and categorically once belonged to a single volume.

Before surfacing in 1856, the original volume had been disassembled and rearranged into two apparently complete books ─all that remained was to bring them back together. In 1970, the Morgan Library acquired the manuscript from the Guennol Collection. Today, the original book, finally recomposed, is one of the great treasures of the Morgan Library (Ms M917/945) now bound in three volumes.

The Master of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves

The anonymous Master named after the Hours of Catherine of Cleves was an active painter in Holland and possibly a member of the van Aken**** family. The artist was clearly an excellent connoisseur of paintings by the Van Eyck brothers and Robert Campin, and studies indicate that he oversaw and painted the illuminations of this manuscript with the help of only two assistants. His work has continued to enthrall through the ages, thanks to the mastery of his technique as well as the originality of his subjects. The Master was indeed the first to have normalised the integrations of motifs inspired by everyday life into this type of work. This method inspired other illuminators that followed, such as the Viennese Master of Mary of Burgundy who created The Hours of Mary of Burgundy.

With grateful acknowledgments to Roger S. Wieck (Melvin R. Seiden Curator and Department Head, Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts - The Morgan Library & Museum)

Religious manuscript of Catherine of Cleves


* In 1434, the Duke of Burgundy had a coin minted which is depicted on one of the folios of the manuscript.

** “O Mother of God, remember me.”

*** The crescent moon is a very common and popular motif in the Middle Ages. In the manuscript, it also appears in Book XII of Revelation.

**** The painter Anthonius van Aken (1420-1478) was the father of Jheronimus van Aken, better known as Hieronymus Bosch.



- The Hours of Catherine of Cleves: devotions, demons and daily life in the fifteenth century, Rob Dückers, Rudd Priem; with contributions by Gregory T. Clark, Henri L.M. Defoer, Jos Koldeweij, Eberhard König, Anne S. Korteweg, James H. Marrow, Arent Pol, Kathryn M. Rudy, Bert Thissen, Roger S. Wieck. Harry N. Abrams (2010).

- The Hours of Catherine of Cleves: Reproduced from the illuminated manuscript belonging to the Guennol Collection and the Pierport Morgan Library. Barrie & Rockliff (1966).

- Das Stundenbuch der Katharina von Kleve. Faksimile Verlag (München, 2009).

- The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, John Plummer, George Braziller (New York, 1966).

- Codices Illustres. Les plus beaux manuscrits enluminés du monde 400 à 1600, Ingo F. Walther et Norbert Wolf, éditions Taschen (Paris, 2014).

Wood frame, made in France.

The document is displayed in a 12 in x 16 in frame.

Each frame is hand-assembled in our workshops in Cambremer.

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