Blog / Work of the Week: Book of Hours

Posted by Sarah Soltis

Book of hours

Jean Bourdichon was born circa 1457 in Tours, France. While little information survives on Bourdichon’s family and early life, much exists attesting to his great influence and prominence as an artist in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. It is fairly certain that Bourdichon began as a pupil of the renowned court painter Jean Fouquet, and, consequently, many of Bourdichon’s works resemble those by the earlier master. This particular work, Book of Hours, was produced towards the beginning of Bourdichon’s career, which took off in the early 1480s when he was appointed the court painter to Louis XI of France. Bourdichon’s popularity increased throughout his career, and he later served as the court painter to three additional French kings: Charles VIII, Louis XII, and François I. As Bourdichon’s works became increasingly popular, he established a large workshop under his control, allowing more works to be produced and his influence on the younger generation of artists to intensify.

Bourdichon began his career as a portrait painter but quickly developed a skill for producing miniatures. In fact, today few of his larger works survive, and he is largely remembered for his illuminated manuscripts, of which he produced countless. “Books of hours” were popular throughout Northern Europe, indicating the importance of religion during the 15th and 16th centuries, and the people’s desire for a direct relationship with God. Artistically, Bourdichon’s books of hours reveal the development of a distinctly French style which was established from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries. While Bourdichon played a key role in establishing this new style based on specifically French characteristics, certain elements of his works remained strongly influenced by Italian models. Such influence is revealed in this book of hours, in which the flowers and insects in the margins were not native to France, but were instead influenced by renditions Bourdichon had seen in Italian and Flemish works (where these flowers and animals were native). Such instances indicate how difficult it was for the French school to free itself of its links with both Italy and the Flemish school. Nonetheless, Bourdichon’s artistic impact was profound, and made even more so by his location in Tours, which served as the main royal residence at the time and, thus, was a site from which the artist’s influence could be widely felt.     

I consulted Dr. Kristin Neuschel, a specialist on medieval manuscripts from the Duke University History Department, to learn more about this book of hours. She informed me that this book of hours was extravagant and would have been particularly expensive to commission. Moreover, Dr. Neuschel explained that the time at which this particular book was produced was marked by the introduction and increased popularity of printed books. Thus, according to Dr. Neuschel, this book of hours would have been particularly expensive. Dr. Neuschel found the lavish marginal images and the extreme detail of the miniatures particularly notable. Moreover, Dr. Neuschel found the preservation of the book especially impressive. She explained that many books transformed over the course of the years in which they were used. As a result, many books of hours that are seen today have writing in the margins or have had pages subtracted. This is not the case with the Nasher Museums’s book of hours, however, which appears to have remained relatively untouched and intact. Additionally, Dr. Neuschel pointed out the inclusion of the patron in the Crucifixion miniature, an element of the book I found to be incredibly fascinating.

I consider the images in this book to be incredibly well executed and detailed. The rich colors, extreme precision, and the gold accents of the miniatures were particularly fascinating. Furthermore, I thought the flowers were unbelievably intricate and livened up the book considerably. Additionally, I found the incredible precision required to render the miniatures and the intricacy of the images amazing. I was also fascinated by elements of the book beyond the aesthetic elements. For instance, I found the text especially interesting, as it was written in Latin and French. Moreover, I consider this book to be a great example of the art of the fifteenth century and was incredibly interested in how much insight it provided into the cultures and societies of the time.


Image: Workshop of Jean Bourdichon, Book of Hours, c. 1490. Tempera, liquid gold, and ink on vellum. 4 3/8 x 6 15/16 x 1 inches (11.1 x 17.6 x 2.5 cm). Museum purchase. 1993.2.1. 


Reinburg, Virginia. French Books of Hours: Making an Archive of Prayer, c. 1400-1600. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Print.

Reynaud, Nicole. “Bourdichon, Jean.” Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 29 January 2013.

Benezit Dictionary of Artists. “Bourdichon, Jean.” Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 2 April 2013.

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