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Book of Hours

When the University of Delaware Library Associates Executive Board met to discuss how to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, it made the decision to acquire something very significant for the Library collection. Special Collections staff, who work with the scholars and students who use the collections, identified several areas of need and after considering a number of these, the overwhelming choice of the Board was the acquisition of a Book of Hours. The University of Delaware has a strong program in Medieval literature and art history and Books of Hours, which represent one of the most significant genres of medieval and renaissance European illuminated manuscripts, are a popular source for research and teaching. They offer an important record of life in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as well as of the iconography of medieval and early-renaissance Christianity. Until now, the students and faculty of the University of Delaware had to make do with facsimile editions of Books of Hours, and even though many of these are elaborately produced and have become rare books themselves, the benefit of having an original manuscript Book of Hours was readily apparent.

Books of Hours were produced by teams of calligraphers and artists and were often elaborately decorated with original artwork, illuminations, and calligraphic devices. A typical Book of Hours was organized into sections or "hours," each of which contained prayers, psalms, hymns, and other devotional texts to be used for prayer at designated times during the day. Modeled upon the breviaries and prayer books used by medieval monks, Books of Hours were designed for the use of the laity who wished to incorporate elements of monasticism into their devotional life. Reciting the hours typically centered upon the recitation or singing of a number of psalms, accompanied by set prayers. The specific contents could be tailored to the individual owner's needs or interests, and there were vast differences in design and format, but nearly all Books of Hours contained certain fundamental texts, including a set of prayers called the Hours of the Virgin, a calendar, lessons from the Gospels, penitential psalms, and a portion of the Office of the Dead. Most Books of Hours began with these basic contents and expanded them with a variety of prayers and devotions, including devotions for use at Mass, and meditations on the Passion of Christ. Books of Hours also included illustrations and other design elements which ranged from very rudimentary productions to highly elaborate examples created for wealthy patrons.

The Book of Hours which the University of Delaware Library has acquired was produced in Northern France, most likely in the city of Amiens, during the late-fifteenth century. Written in Latin and French on vellum, the manuscript consists of one hundred thirty leaves and has ten large painted miniatures and seventeen beautifully-decorated initials. The Book of Hours will be an important resource for faculty and students of Medieval and Renaissance Art, history, and literature, the history of the book, material culture, and a host of other disciplines, and makes its scholarly debut in this celebratory exhibition.

Book of Hours
Book of Hours
Book of Hours
Book of Hours


Selection of images from
the Book of Hours

This page is maintained by Special Collections.
10/28/09

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