Mouth of Hell & Final Absolution. Hours of Catherine of Cleves (MS M.945, ff. 168v–169r) by the Master of Catherine of Cleves. Utrecht, The Netherlands ca. 1440. J.P. Morgan Library. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Hours of Catherine of Cleves is a fifteenth-century Dutch book of hours that was owned by a controversial duchess of Guelders. According to the Morgan Library and agreed upon by pretty much every other source I read, the manuscript is “the greatest Dutch illuminated manuscript in the world” (Morgan Library website). The Morgan’s description names the detailed miniatures and inventive borders as the main reasons for the book’s renown. I have noticed that the manuscript’s most frequently-reproduced images are those shown above and below. Both depict hell is a most horrifying and gruesome fashion. We’ll talk about some related imagery in a few days, but I’ve never seen anything quite like these in any other manuscript. No wonder the book is so well-known!

Souls Released from Purgatory. Hours of Catherine of Cleves (MS M.945, ff. 106v–107r) by the Master of Catherine of Cleves. Utrecht, The Netherlands, ca. 1440. J.P. Morgan Library. Photo from themorgan.org.

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