Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Books of Hours were popular around the 14th and 15th centuries, often commissioned for lay people of many different backgrounds – whether middle class or aristocracy. With the ability to personalize them, they ranged between many different qualities in binding, script and illumination, though those along the more expensive strain were well decorated and expensive. However, The Book of Hours of Lorenzo de’ Medici, commissioned by Lorenzo de’ Medici himself in the year 1485, appears to be rather exceptional, even in comparison to many of the more intricate.
A man of great wealth and many children, Medici was known as Lorenzo the Magnificent as a ruler and statesman, as well as a patron of the arts. Contributing much to the artists of Florence, he supported many artists, even giants such as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. His choice to commission the Books of Hours  of Lorenzo de’ Medici is rather unsurprising, as is the sheer amount of detailed artistry he was willing to fund in the work.
Part of a collection called the Libriccini delli offitii, di donna ( or small books of the offices, for the use of the ladies), this book was one of the five commissioned for the weddings of his beloved daughters. His love for his daughters must have been great if the amount beauty of these books of hours is any indication. The books even come with the description “for the ladies,” giving the implication that the works were meant to be small and precious treasures, much like the four Rose Quarts and center set Lapis Lazuli on the front cover. The book itself is rather small as well and with its 15.3 x 10.1 cm format it’s only about the size of a postcard. Today, the original lays in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenzia in Florence, Italy.

 Truly a work of the highest order, the jewels themselves are not the only reason that the book is regarded as so ornate, as the ornate silver and gold gilded biding, velvet cover and highly detailed illuminations within look just as expensive. Lorenzo contributed much to the world of art, and this book is no different with the sheer amount of artistry put into the binding and pages. Engraver, illuminator, cartographer and painter Francesco Rosselli is responsible for the work within, and covered every one of the 233 leafs within with at least an initial, adornment or frieze. In fact, the book only appears to have had one artist and scribe working on it in its entirety, making the detail put into the work that much more intriguing. For only one man, the work load must have been immense, but the harmony among the art and script was well worth the work in the eyes of many who have observed the book of hours.

In other Books of Hours, there were often full-page illuminations, covering as much of the page in details, portraits and flowery intricacies as was possible. The book contains nine total full-page illuminations like these, each complete with a level of detail that seems to surpass many of the books of hours in the past. Covered almost entirely in portraits and details, the illuminations swamp the script on the pages that are the most detailed. Miniaturized portraits are present on each of these full pages bordering the script and surrounded by flowery details. Usually, more expensive books could have circlets where portraits were displayed alongside the script, but Medici’s book has pages with as many as twenty or more.  The most amazing aspect of these portraits, though, is the amount of detail put into them. Each of them is probably no bigger than a centimeter or two, but the faces and clothes are still prominent none the less. Even the cherubs, flowers, and delicate details that fill in the page between the portraits are clearly visible and distinguishable from a distance.

Even the pages that don’t contain full illuminations, the work is still beautiful in its simplicity. Historiated initials contain more portraits, the inner margins decorated with lines of flowers and creeping details that border one side of the page. Even by just simply changing the color of the ink on certain lines, Rosselli was able to make even un-decorated pages look beautiful. 


  1. I can’t say that I am surprised that Lorenzo de Medici has a commissioned book of hours, much less five. In art history the Medici name is frequently mentioned when seeking the attribution of commissioned works in Italy, especially during the Italian Renaissance. They were consistently great patrons of the arts, beginning with Cosimo de Medici, and dwindling when the family was run out of Florence in the 18th century. Politics. This particular manuscript is exceptionally beautiful, and it is surprising that it is from a set of five books of hours, the "libriccini delli offitii, di donna"; I am curious to see how the other books compare. I didn’t think that there was anything that could match the splendor of the Duke of Berry’s Book of Hours. I think it is endearing that Lorenzo de Medici commissioned the set for his five daughters, with the intent to bestow the intricate treasures upon them on their respective wedding days. I think that the interplay of women being literate and educated (and holding a certain amount of power), yet pious future wives and mothers is interesting.

  2. I remember seeing somewhere that one could buy a copy for a meager 6.290€. That is around five thousand dollars in the current exchange rate. Now picture how expensive the original must have been for its time because a copy is an extreme some of money (for a college student anyway). The lapis lazuli that contributed to the blue dye and the really big gem in the center was still rare and expensive. Just the lapis in the blue ink and the gem would make the original a fortune to make back then. But also the velvet at the time was dyed with metals, the same as the ink. So that bright blue you see was probably a form of lapis. The dollar signs for this book keep coming up and it’s important to stress that the Medici family were rich. They were a high business practice, so I can see why. This isn’t even covering the rose quartz. I haven’t seen any manuscripts that have used rose quartz on the cover. Looking at who the book was made for gives some witness as to why. Rose quartz is a soft pink, a delicate color, as though meant for a lady. Every detail was for a lady, and being presented as a gift to Medici’s daughters is no surprise.

  3. I think the manuscript that was for sale is a copy of the book of hours, definitely not an original. It’s really amazing how the transition into lay devotion created things like these copies of the Book of Hours. It is crazy to think that in an era where books of theology and piety can be purchased on Amazon that there was once a time period where lay devotion just wasn’t a thing. The Medici Book of hours is an excellent example of this transition. Obviously representing the upper class contribution to the rise of lay devotion this book is made in an extremely expensive manner.
    I have heard a lot about Lorenzo Medici from High School, but since it was in an AP Euro class I’m not exactly sure how much of it was true. I heard that he was a renaissance version of a mafia boss and his family owned quite a bit of property and wealth. But again, I’m not entirely sure so if anyone has any further information on him I would like to know.
    All in all, the Medici hours are an extremely interesting foray into the world of lay devotion that was being formed in this era.

  4. This might be getting ahead of myself, but I'd love to rope in some stuff from another History course I'm taking this semester. The Medici's seriously seem to have had a lot of power and wealth for an enduring period of time. The illustrations (especially the vine-work on this particular BoH) are pretty insane - a testament to just how much money they had. As Britt mentioned, the Medici's are remembered as great patrons of the arts - the Medici's also factor heavily into the patronage of another discipline; science!

    I'm taking a class on Scientific Revolutions with Professor Kaplan (which I recommend) and the story of Galileo's rise to success can be heavily attributed to his ability to "play the game," if you will, in terms of securing patronage. When he managed to recreate the design of a refracting telescope that he saw being sold by a foreign merchant, he was quick to monetize this invention and dedicate its discovery to various merchants and Venetian lawmakers. As he began to draw the planets into focus and make his observations, he dedicated these discoveries to Cosimo II de Medici and his brothers (late 16th Century) with the hope of securing a position at a prestigious institution. The Medici's would come to support Galileo, drawing him into the spotlight and ensuring that his ideas achieved wide circulation.

    Fun side note; Galileo was originally a professor of perspective and Chiaroscuro (ca. 1588), and was really good friends with famous Florentine painter Cigoli, who drew some of his moons for him. An interesting article where I got a lot of this from can be found here:

  5. It is unsurprising that Lorenzo di Medici would give his daughters books of hours of such incredible beauty. At the time, one of the favorite ways for the European elite to display their wealth and status was to commission these lavish books of hours. By having five books such as these produced, Medici was broadcasting his affluence to the rest of Italian high society. This demonstration of wealth and power would have been esppecially important to Lorenzo given that he was locked in a power struggle with the Borgias at the time. It should also be noted that the Medici's good times began to fade under Lorenzo's guidance, and they lost substantial amounts of money and had to shut down several branches of their family bank due to financial difficulties. Lorenzo's money problems later in life became so bad that he had to resort to embezzeling funds from the Florentine state.

    An interesting note about the subject matter for illuminations within books of hours is that they very rarely included imagery of Hell. As these books were primarily made for women, it was felt that brimstone and damnation didn't belong in a prayer book lest it offend a woman's sensibilities. For an exception, see the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, digitized at the Morgan Library.