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.