Book of Hours, most likely made for Queen Catherine of Aragon

Jean Pichore & The Master of Martainville 183

(Paris, Active circa 1494-1520)
Illuminated manuscript on vellum 20 x 13 cm (7.9 x 5.2 in.) Paris - Circa 1503-1507

This is most likely the long-lost Book of Hours of Queen Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of King Henry VIII. This is an extraordinary book of hours created in the circle of the royal illuminator Jean Pichore, but with most of its illuminations conceived and executed by the great and inventive artist called the Master of Martainville (who illuminated King Louis XII’s printed Book of Hours and one of his manuscript Hours).

The manuscript belongs among the paramount achievements of Parisian book production around 1500 (although earlier generations of art historians would have falsely identified it as the work of the school of Rouen). It comprises an astounding 60 large or full page miniatures and 54 smaller miniatures, as well as magnificent full borders accompanying all the text pages. Especially remarkable is a double page painting of unique spiritual and artistic value.

The book tells a story: throughout the text borders there are hints, such as the recurring French fleurs-de-lis (which appear more than 50 times), that the book was conceived for a lady of the inner circle of royal families in Europe. Another striking piece of evidence is the dominant miniature at the beginning of the book of a lady shown in prayer to the Virgin, accompanied by Saint Catherine. This lady keeps in her prie-dieu a royal crown, as if to suggest that the crown is rightly hers, but that she has not yet attained the status to wear it. This can refer to only one political figure of those years, and that is Catherine of Aragon, the unhappy daughter of Isabella I, Queen of Castile. Princess Catherine was first married in 1501 to Arthur, Prince of Wales, who died the year after their union. In addition to the death of her husband, Catherine had suffered two additional major losses by 1504 - her mother Isabella, and her mother-in-law Elisabeth, who was her only loyal ally at the English court. Accordingly, the miniatures in the book show the mourning of three dead bodies.

The negotiations surrounding her subsequent marriage to her deceased husband’s brother, which would make her the first wife of Henry VIII, took seven long years, and were all the while a matter of interest at royal courts all over Europe. With all this in mind, the following picture emerges: in 1504, production begins on a manuscript that was ordered on behalf of Louis XII of France and Anne of Brittany as a diplomatic gift to the widowed princess Catherine. Miserable and stuck in England, awaiting her marital fate, Catherine most likely received the lavish gift in order to make her accommodating of French interests. This very book, we are convinced, was the Book of Hours specifically singled out among the books left at her death: “a primer, written in vellom, covered with clothe of golde, having two claspis of silver and gilte” (Carley, p. 120). It is also the only book in her testament’s list that has not been preserved in the Royal or other public collections in England.

A facsimile of the whole manuscript will be published early next year, accompanied by a comprehensive commentary by Prof. Eberhard König, outlining the evidence leading to these assumptions. This text is available, upon request, in German and in English.

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Heribert Tenschert - Antiquariat Bibermühle

"Books, Maps and Manuscripts"

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