During the last half of the thirteenth century the Book of Hours became popular as a personal prayer book for men and women who led secular lives. It was based on the liturgy of the clergy and contained a selection of prayers, psalms, hymns and lessons. Although each book was unique they all contained the Hours of the Virgin Mary, a series of devotions to be made during the eight canonical hours of the day, and from this came the name ‘Books of Hours’. These works often also included religious calendars showing the saints’ days. The more important religious dates were commonly written in red ink, giving us the saying 'red letter day'.
Many were also illuminated with miniatures, decorated initials and floral borders. By the fifteenth century, Books of Hours were being produced in large numbers in the workshops or ateliers of major European cities. Often they resulted from the contributions of a team of scribes and artists under the supervision of the chef d’atelier. Paper was rare and most Books of Hours were composed of parchment sheets made from the skins of animals, usually sheep or goats. The art of illumination as displayed in Books of Hours reached its zenith in the first half of the fifteenth century. Thereafter, with the introduction of printing, it gradually declined and Books of Hours began to be mass-produced on presses, with woodcuts replacing the illuminations.
The pages of this French medieval manuscript are gloriously decorated throughout with varied and delicately decorated borders. Gold and green feathery foliage, red berries, blue crimson and white flowers and fruits are lavishly depicted. 1
This book of hours was produced in the late 15th century in the workshop of Jean Colombe of Bourges. The text is Latin, with a calendar in French calendar; gospel sequences; O intemerata; Hours of the Virgin; seasonal variations; Hours of the Cross; Hours of the Holy Ghost; penitential psalms; litany; Vigils of the Dead; commemorations of saints; Stabat Mater. The illuminated decoration includes historiated initials (large decorated initial letters with small images inside them), miniature paintings and decorative borders of acanthus leaves, flowers and berries.