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[Bruges, c.1520]
186 x 125mm. ii paper + 166 + ii paper leaves: 16, 2-38, 46, 58, 67(of 8, lacking v), 78, 87(of 8, lacking vii), 98, 106(of 8, lacking ii and vii), 117(of 8, lacking iii, vi misbound as iii), 127(of 8, lacking iii), 137(of 8, lacking ii), 146, 157(of 8, lacking i), 168, 174, 187(of 8, lacking i), 19-218, 227(of 8, lacking viii), 235(of 6, lacking iv), 244(of 6, lacking ii and iv), 251(single leaf, lacking preceding text), 17 lines written in a black ink in a rounded gothic bookhand between two verticals and 18 horizontals ruled in red, justification: 96 x 65mm, rubrics in red, one- and two-line initials with staves of acanthus or branches in liquid gold and brown on grounds of pink, blue or green or in white and pink on grounds of maroon, line-endings with similar motifs in combinations of the same colours, seven initials of four or six lines with similar staves in liquid gold and brown on grounds modelled in colour and stippled with liquid gold or white in frames of brown and liquid gold, FOUR LARGE INITIALS OF SIMILAR TYPE WITH FULL HISTORIATED BORDERS on coloured grounds, TWELVE FULL HISTORIATED BORDERS FOR THE CALENDAR each a single scene enclosing the text (lacking at least 14 leaves of text, probably with large initials and borders, and perhaps about 20 inserted single leaves with miniatures at the major divisions of the text, f.75 has been misbound and should follow f.77). 19th-century diced calf gilt with rococo design gilt, spine in five compartments gilt, fore edges gilt (slight wear to joints). Maroon half morocco box.

1. The offices are for the universal use of Rome and prayers are in the masculine; the calendar indicates a model from Ghent or the requirements of a Ghent patron. While the book may have been written in Ghent, it was probably decorated in Bruges where Simon Bening (1483/4-1561) registered as an illuminator in 1500 and became a burgess in 1519; he no doubt maintained contacts with his native town of Ghent.
2. Sold by J. & J. Leighton, London, 1 July 1886.

Calendar ff.1-6; the Passion according to John ff.7-16v; indulgenced prayer on the wounds of Christ, Ave vulnus lateris, f.17; Gospel extracts ff.18-24v: John f.18, Luke f.20, Matthew f.22, Mark f.24; Hours of the Cross ff.25-40v: matins f.25, prime f.26, terce f.26v, sext f.27v, none f.28, vespers f.29, compline f.29v; Hours of the Holy Spirit ff.31-35v: matins f.31, prime f.31v, terce 32v, sext f.33, none f.33v, vespers f.34, compline f.35; Mass of the Virgin ff.36-40v; Office of the Virgin, use of Rome, lacking opening of each hour except none, ff.41-99: matins f.41, lauds f.58, prime f.68, terce f.72, sext f.76, none f.78, vespers f.82, compline with prayers f.88; variations for Advent and the liturgical year f.92; Penitential Psalms, lacking opening, ff.100-110; Litany ff.110-118v; Office of the Dead, use of Rome, lacking opening, ff.119-156v; Athanasian Creed, lacking opening, ff.157-159v; Obsecro te, lacking opening and end, ff.160-162v; O intemerata, lacking opening and end, f.163; a confessional prayer, lacking opening and end, ff.164-165; the Seven Oes attributed to St Gregory, lacking opening, f.166.

The hand of the great Simon Bening (see lot 27) is immediately obvious in this manuscript, as recognised by Bodo Brinkmann (see below). Although the demand for Bening's work meant he employed assistants -- another hand seems to have contributed particularly to January, May and October -- the overall designs and some minutely painted detailing suggest Bening himself was responsible for this calendar that demonstrates his outstanding skills as a landscapist.

The scenes are mostly adapted from the full-page calendar miniatures by Bening in the Da Costa Hours (New York, Morgan Library, Ms M.399), dated to c.1515. The expected priority of the full-page designs can be substantiated by the way they were improved in the Arcana volume: the domestic interior for January is more successfully integrated into the sequence of the seasons by placing it is an open-sided snow-covered building under bare branches and wintry sky. The adaptations were probably painted within the next decade because they share the smoother finish of the Da Costa Hours: the flecked brushwork that Bening developed towards 1530 is only deployed for texturing of trees or detailing of flowers (see Kren and McKendrick, pp.447-86).

For the Portuguese artist and humanist, Francisco de Hollanda (1517-1584), Bening was 'among the Flemish the most pleasing colourist who best painted trees and distances', a judgement borne out by the Arcana Hours where he deployed his mastery of colour and tone as well as his assured draughtsmanship to convey a sense of recession into deep space. Delightful details appear alongside intimations of the vastness of nature -- the sheep wriggling as they lose their convincingly woolly fleeces, f.3v, the woman walking from the distant farmhouse, f.5.

Illuminated manuscripts made available in an attractively portable format the achievements of Netherlandish painting in creating convincing illusions of both actual and spiritual worlds. In easel painting, the immediacy of Bening's landscapes was not equalled until the work of Pieter Bruegel in the 1550s and 1560s. December in the Arcana volume has the killing of a pig demarcating the foreground, just as in Bruegel's The Hunters in the Snow (1565), while the minute people disporting on the ice are found not only there but in Bruegel's Christmas scenes set in contemporary wintry landscapes.

Bening's work should not just be viewed for his place in the great Netherlandish landscape tradition, crucial though that place was. He was also receptive to the classicising forms of the Italian Renaissance, as on f.25. It is, however, as a landscape artist that Bening appears in the Arcana Hours with its absorbing evocations of a world where man was far more obviously governed by the seasons.

The subjects of the historiated borders are as follows:
f.1 January: in a snow-covered house beneath bare trees, a man warming himself by a fire as a woman prepares his meal; Aquarius in a roundel.
f.1v February: pruning and training vines in a vineyard with a raised hut for the watchman; Pisces in a roundel.
f.2 March: two woodcutters; Aries in a roundel.
f.2v April: the flocks, with the new lambs, let out to the pastures; Taurus in a roundel.
f.3 May: a Maying party making music in a boat; Gemini as a nude man and woman in a roundel.
f.3v June: sheep shearing; Cancer as a lobster in a roundel
f.4 July; the hay harvest; Leo in a roundel
f.4v August: the corn harvest; Virgo in a roundel
f.5 September: ploughing a field; Scorpio in a roundel
f.5v October: killing a bull with a view of the farmyard; Libra in a roundel.
f.6 November: beating flax plants to break down the stem fibres, with a man threshing corn with a flail in a doorway; Sagittarius, a centaur with bow and arrow, in a roundel
f.6v December: slaughtering a pig; Capricorn in a roundel.
f.7 The Betrayal and Arrest of Christ in gold on brown.
f.25 Urns, masks, and a putto in a classicising grotesque design in gold on red.
f.78 Foliage and intertwined branches in gold and brown.
f.92 On a blue background, a pink scroll with AVE MAR[IA] GRACIA PLENA DOMIN[US TECUM] BENED[ICTA TU] in gold around a gold column.

B. Brinkmann, Die flämische Buchmalerei am Ende des Burgunderreichs, 1997, p.40.
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