31 Days of Medieval Manuscripts (2015) · Medieval Art and Architecture

The Black Hours – Day Five of Medieval Manuscripts

“Black Hours,” for Rome use. Belgium, Bruges, c. 1470 (MS M.493). Workshop of Willem Vrelant (fl. 1454–1481) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Earlier today, I came across an article on medievalists.net entitled “Top 10 Most Beautiful Medieval Manuscripts”, and I decided that today’s featured manuscript would be one of those ten. (I also felt validated to see that my day two pick, the Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux, made the expert’s list.)

“Black Hours,” for Rome use. Belgium, Bruges, c. 1470 (MS M.493). See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Black Hours owned by the Morgan Library (Ms. M.493) is a stunning manuscript. I’ve seen it before but don’t know much about it. The reason for its name is obvious; it is completely written and illustrated on vellum that has been stained black. The contrast of those dark pages with the blue borders and gilt decoration is highly effective, though the gilt and silver text is a bit difficult to read. I would imagine that owning a black book of hours would have been quite luxurious and expensive; this was certainly the case for books with purple pages. Additionally, blue paint and ink was expensive in the Middle Ages owning to the scarcity of the materials needed to produce it, so the extensive use of blue in the manuscript clearly marks it as the possession of an extremely wealthy individual.

Black Hours of Galeazzo Maria Sforza. Bruges, c. 1466–76. f. 32v-33. Master of Anthony of Burgundy [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Black books of hours are quite rare, but in addition to the Morgan Library’s example, a few others do exist. Above is an image from the Black Hours of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, which pairs its black pages with richly-detailed borders in gilt and luminous painted details.

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