BOOK OF HOURS, unidentified use, in Latin and Dutch, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT ON VELLUM
156 x 112mm. ii + 131 + ii leaves: 1-28, 37 (?of 8 lacking i), 4-88, 99 (of 8 + ii, inserted miniature), 108, 119 (of 8 + iii, inserted miniature), 12-168, 172, 17 lines written in brown-black ink in a bâtarde hand between two verticals and 18 horizontals ruled in red, justification: 96 x 63 mm, rubrics in red, one- and two-line initials alternately in red or blue, line endings in red and/or blue, text initials touched red, two- and three-line initials in red flourished with pink or in blue flourished with red, some detailed in green and/or yellow, leading to part flourished borders, THREE HISTORIATED INITIALS with full architectural or scatter borders facing THREE FULL-PAGE MINIATURES WITH MATCHING FULL BORDERS, one FULL-PAGE HERALDIC MINIATURE, added armorial genealogy (probably lacking leaf with miniature at start of third gathering, some wear to miniatures and borders, tarnishing of silver in coats of arms, early translations added to ff.130-131). 18th-century mottled calf gilt, spine in six compartments gilt, fore-edges stained blue (rebacked, wear to joints).
The scribe dated his work 1502 in the colophon: 'Desen bouc was vulhendt int iaer ons heeren xvc ende twee En bidt voor hem dien screef want hy seer aerme van duechden bleef' (f.128v). Its very individual features show that the book was commissioned by Nicolaas Biese and his wife Margareta Verdebroeck of Ghent, whose coats of arms appear on f.1 and under the miniature on f.83v. There they are shown at prayer with their three sons and four daughters, presented to the Virgin and Child by their patrons Sts Nicholas and Margaret. The cowled saint behind St Margaret is probably Gerard, the patron saint of their eldest son. One of the daughters, probably the eldest, is Margareta, wife of Georges Sersanders, whose fourth child was born in about 1502. The use of the feminine form for one prayer may mean that the book was intended for Margareta. The devotion to St Anne evident from the text and images would be appropriate for a wife and mother and it is possible that Margareta was already a widow.
On an added bifolium at the end, Nicolaas III Biese traced his descent from his great-grandfather, the book's commissioner, and back to Nicolaas I's great-grandfather, giving the arms of both husbands and wives, who chiefly came from other Ghent families (Steelant, Sersanders, Everaert), culminating in the arms of Nicolaas III and his wife Ava van Heemra, f.130v; on the facing page there are full displays of the arms of Biese and Heemra, each flanked by eight coats of arms of Nicolaas and Ava's ancestors, followed by the date 1620. According to this line of descent, the book is likely to have passed from Nicolaas I to his son Gerard, married to Geertruyt van Leyden, whose arms are those of van Leyden van Leeuwen, with the colours reversed, and then to their son Nicolaas II and his wife Ludovica Everaerdt, the parents of Nicolaas III. Ava was the daughter of Tjaerdt van Heemra and Ava van Ubbema and descended from other Frisian families (van Jongema, van Doema) and also from the Jarges of Liège; her brother was Lord of Holwinde, north of Groningen. By 1614 she had married Nicolas III, who had perhaps sought refuge in the north from the wars; she was still alive in 1636. They were possibly childless, since there is no mention of Ava's heirs in a Heemra family property settlement of 1667.
The famous scholar Nicolaas Biese (1516-1572), who became doctor to the Emperor Maximilian II, was probably a son of one of the younger sons seen on f. 83v.
The book was presumably made in Ghent. It includes a prayer to the locally revered St Livinus, although the calendar relates more generally to the southern Netherlands. It includes St Amand, apostle of Flanders (6 Feb), St Servatius of Tongeren and Maastricht (13 May), Sts Remy and Bavo (1 Oct), Autbert, Bishop of Cambrai (12 Dec) and, in red, St Nicasius of Reims (14 Dec) and there are traces of pilgrim badges on ff.113v-114. Ghent was in the diocese of Tournai and the archdiocese of Rheims. The style of the accomplished flourishing and the idiosyncratic structure, with some integral miniatures and some tipped in on independent leaves, indicates that the book may have been written in a religious community and completed by professional illuminators. The flourishing shows some similarities with that in a copy of Thomas Netter's Doctrinale, written in the Carmelite Convent in Ghent and dated 1500 (Cambridge, Trinity Hall, Ms 3, N. Morgan and S. Panayotova, A Catalogue of Western Book Illumination in the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Cambridge Colleges, 1, ii, The Meuse Region, Southern Netherlands, 2009, pp.222-23). The Hieronymites in Ghent were also major book producers.
Miss Lucy Bark; sold at Sotheby's 10 November 1952, lot 68.
Calendar in Dutch, sparsely filled, ff.2-13; Ave maria ancilla trinitatis in Dutch with rubric attributing it to St Bernard ff.13v-15; prayers in Dutch to St Livinus of Ghent and St Sebastian ff.15-16v; Hours of the Cross ff.17-24; Office of the Virgin, a use found with slight variants in manuscripts located to the west of the southern Netherlands ff.25-62v: matins f.25, lauds f.33, prime f.40v, terce f.45, sext f.47v, none f.50v, vespers f.53, compline f.58v; salutation of the Virgin Ave sprek ic ff.63-64; Penitential Psalms and Litany ff.66-79; opening of Gospel of St John ff.79v-80; Fifteen O's of St Bridget in Dutch ff.81-93; indulgenced Seven Petitions of St Gregory in Dutch to be said before an image of the Instruments of the Passion ff.93v-95; eight verses of St Bernard in Dutch ff.95-96; prayers in Dutch including on getting up and going to sleep ff.96v-98v; O intemerata in Dutch using feminine forms ff.98v-101; Obsecro te in Dutch with indulgence ff.101-104; prayers in Dutch, one with indulgence and one to be said at the Elevation, ff.104-105v; meditation on the Passion in Dutch ff.106-113v; prayers in Dutch: to be said during the mass, to the Virgin, including the Salve regina, the Five Requests, ending with a prayer to the Virgin to be said before an image of her clothed in the sun to gain the indulgence given by Pope Sixtus, presumably for Sixtus IV who approved the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, associated with this image, ff.114-128v; added armorial genealogy of the Biese family ff.130v-131, with rough sketch on f.130 of the content on the verso.
The detailed landscapes and convincing figures suggest an illuminator influenced by the work of Gerard Horenbout, active as painter and illuminator in Ghent from 1487, court painter to Margaret of Austria, Governess of the Netherlands, and from at least 1528-1531 to Henry VIII of England (T. Kren and S. McKendrick, Illuminating the Renaissance, 2003, pp.427-33). Often identified with the Master of James IV of Scotland, Horenbout clearly headed a workshop and is known to have employed at least one illuminator. The physical types and the soft delineation of female features in brown are reminiscent of his work but the artist of the Biese Hours employed a gentler range of colours. The attractive borders with scattered flowers and birds or architectural tracery are typical of this period of Flemish illumination when manuscripts were exported across Europe as well as being carefully crafted for local patrons like Nicolaas Biese and his wife.
While the Last Judgement was a conventional subject for the Penitential Psalms, the other miniatures are very individual and specific to the couple, most obviously the armorial display on f.1 and the family at their devotions on f.83v. At the start of the Office of the Virgin, the unusual displacement of the Annunciation to the top 'lunette' above St Anne suggests a special devotion, also evident in the section given to widows in the Litany that is headed by St Anne. This does not prove that Margareta Verdebroeck was a widow in 1502, since the saint's popularity had greatly increased during the 15th century. The prestigious Guild of St Anne in the church of St Nicholas in Ghent had the two Duchesses, Margaret of York and Mary of Burgundy, among its members.
The subjects of the miniatures are:
an angel holding the coats of arms of Biese and Verdebroek flanked by the added arms of Margareta Sersanders, Nicolaas I's mother, and of Margareta Verdebroeck's mother, above the added date 1502, f.1
St Anne enthroned in a garden with the Virgin seated lower down and the Child Christ standing before them, minute figures of St Jerome and ?St Anthony in the background landscape, and the Annunciation above, within a full scatter border of flowers and fruit that matches the facing verso where birds also appear, f.24v
the Last Judgement with St Michael ushering away the damned, with a full scatter border of flowers, f.65v
Nicolaas Biese and Margareta Verdebroeck with their children kneeling below a half-length Virgin with Child in the sky above, with Sts Nicholas, Margaret and ?Gerard, within a full border of blue flowers on a pink ground with the arms of Biese impaling Verdebroeck, f.83v.
The subjects of the historiated initials are:
the Agony in the Garden in camaieu d'or on brown, with an architectural border framing the Flagellation in camaieu d'or on blue f.17
King David at prayer, with a full scatter border of flowers including roses, pansies, an iris, f.66
the Man of Sorrows, standing in the tomb and displaying his wounds against a background of the Instruments of the Passion in camaieu d'or. with a full border of blue flowers on a pink ground, f.84.