Book of Hours Etching Series

Book of Hours etching F_15 2002

F_ 15 (ETCHING) Book of Hours 2002

On the Book of Hours

Before the invention of printing from moveable type, around 1455, all books were written by a scribe on parchment or paper, though they were not always decorated. During the late Middle Ages, the Book of Hours developed as a popular devotional text for the laity, who would recite the particular prayer for the hour of the day and time of year according to the ecclesiastical calendar. The accompanying illuminations and miniatures of saints, the Virgin Mary, and Christ were not merely decoration; they provided an opportunity for spiritual reflection and prayer for salvation. Such precious books were treasured by families, and bequeathed to subsequent generations.

Book of Hours IV

Book of Hours IV 2002

After 1450, books of hours started to be mass produced by the press with woodcuts. Specialized workshops of illuminators already existed, producing large volumes of texts that ranged from illustrious masterpieces to low quality, “hack” reproductions. Printing carried on and perfected the tradition of mass production while woodcuts replaced the illuminations.

The book of hours can be seen as a church calendar and day planner of prayer, for it helps to organize time throughout the year and to structure daily devotion. The central text is the Hours of the Virgin, which includes Psalm verses, hymns, prayers, and readings to be recited during the eight canonical hours of the day: Matins (before dawn), Lauds (daybreak), Prime (6:00 a.m.), Terce (9:00 a.m.), Sext (noon), None (3:00 p.m.), Vespers (sunset), and Compline (evening).

Book of Hours VI 2002

Book of Hours VI 2002

At these prescribed hours, the reader would contemplate specific texts and/or images, depending upon which office was being observed. For example, the illumination for Compline, the last canonical hour, might show the Entombment of Christ. It was meant to inspire devotional meditation at the end of the day. In addition, these manuscripts include a calendar of the major feast days and the tools used to calculate the date of Easter, the most important feast day of the Christian calendar.

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