The Oval Hours Manuscript

A remarkable manuscript has been loaned to the Walters, and is now on view. This fascinating book, known as the Oval Hours due to its distinctive shape, is on view in the third floor medieval galleries through May 21, 2017.

What makes this manuscript so unique is the approach of the artist, who provided the settings for key Biblical events but left them devoid of any human presence. These stage-like settings might have been intended to encourage mental and spiritual exercises, inviting the viewers to imagine themselves within the scene. Reading prayers was a way of connecting to the divine, and these images may have provided a more active way to imagine that connection, rather than passively looking at a scene where the spiritual connection is happening to someone else. Currently, the Oval Hours is open to a scene that traditionally illustrates St. John, who was exiled on the Greek island of Patmos, receiving a vision of the Apocalypse. But in this illustration, only a pen case, ink pot, and book remain—St. John is absent. From above, a divine hand holds out a book detailing the future Apocalypse, while other traditional imagery described in the Bible—such as the pillars of fire—dance in the air.

Oval Hours, with the Setting of the Revelation to St. John on Patmos / Artist: Bellemare Group; French (Tours), ca. 1525; Parchment with ink, paint, and gold / IL.2015.26.1, fol. 1v–2r, on loan from a Private Collection / Photo credit: Peg Callihan and Bernard Pobiak

Though this may seem to be an especially unusual way of depicting a Biblical event, there are a variety of ways artists could render it, and no two manuscripts are quite alike. In the gallery, the Oval Hours is displayed with two other manuscripts that take diverse approaches to this same theme. The Flemish Book of Hours (W.427), which is the most conventional of the three, depicts St. John seated while recording his vision of a seven-headed beast. The artist of the third manuscript, W.164, injects an element of wit into the episode—a mischievous demon is shown kicking over St. John’s ink pot.

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The Clothilde Missal

In 2016, the Walters Art Museum purchased a unique and fascinating Edwardian era manuscript from 1906, known today as the Clothilde Missal (W.934) after its creator Clothilde Coulaux. This exciting acquisition greatly enriches the Walters manuscript collection, which includes only a small handful of manuscripts made by women. Clothilde was a young French woman living in Molsheim, a city in German-occupied Alsace, France, and her lovely manuscript is a testimony to her artistic skill, imagination, and ability to find beauty in an uncertain world.

A self-portrait by the artist graces one of the last pages of the missal.

While the text of her manuscript is traditional and religious, Clothilde illustrates all 174 pages with a rich variety of imagery including not only devotional subjects, but also scenes of everyday life, music, feasting, courtship and child rearing, death, warfare, and regional architecture. Her religious illuminations often draw upon prints by Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein, and other early masters, as well as art she possibly encountered in her environment such as stained glass, sculpture, and liturgical instruments. Much of the other imagery, however, is uniquely her own, and seems to play around the edges of a text to which it does not entirely relate. Personal touches like her cat gazing out the window, or a tiny figure spilling an enormous ink pot, add whimsy and humor to the pages. The book is her canvas, and the text a background and excuse for her art.

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Illuminating Medieval Manuscripts in the Digital Age, Part III

The Walters recently launched a new website that houses its digital collection of manuscripts: manuscripts.thewalters.org. Featuring a user-friendly design, the site provides visitors with intuitive search options, including the ability to refine their search by date, geography, subject, culture, and more. 

Lynley Anne Herbert is the Robert and Nancy Hall Assistant Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Walters. She started working at the museum as a fellow in 2010, and was soon brought on board as a part-time cataloguer of Western manuscripts for the NEH-funded manuscript digitization project. It often took her and the digitization team up to two weeks to catalogue and digitize a single book.

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Illuminating Medieval Manuscripts in the Digital Age, Part II

The Walters recently launched a new website that houses its digital collection of manuscripts: manuscripts.thewalters.org. Featuring a user-friendly design, the site provides visitors with intuitive search options, including the ability to refine their search by date, geography, subject, culture, and more. 

Lynley Anne Herbert is the Robert and Nancy Hall Assistant Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Walters. She started working at the museum as a fellow in 2010, and was soon brought on board as a full-time cataloguer of Western manuscripts for the NEH-funded manuscript digitization project. It often took her and the digitization team up to two weeks to catalogue and digitize a single book.

Continue reading Illuminating Medieval Manuscripts in the Digital Age, Part II →

Illuminating Medieval Manuscripts in the Digital Age, Part I

The Walters recently launched a new website that houses its digital collection of manuscripts: manuscripts.thewalters.org. Featuring a user-friendly design, the site provides visitors with intuitive search options, including the ability to refine their search by date, geography, subject, culture, and more. 

Lynley Anne Herbert is the Robert and Nancy Hall Assistant Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Walters. She started working at the museum as a fellow in 2010, and was soon brought on board as a full-time cataloguer of Western manuscripts for the NEH-funded manuscript digitization project. It often took her and the digitization team up to two weeks to catalogue and digitize a single book.

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The St. Francis Missal

The St. Francis Missal (W.75) is, at first glance, a seemingly humble manuscript. Bound in undecorated wood and leather, its cover is worm-eaten and cracked. As a missal (a book containing the texts used in the celebration of the Mass), it was primarily meant to be read from by the priest during the church service, and thus designed to be functional rather than lavish. Why, then, is this book one of the most intriguing in The Walters’ collection, as well as one of the most popular, visited by many from around the world each year?

The St. Francis Missal (W.75) is, at first glance, a seemingly humble manuscript.  Bound in undecorated wood and leather, its cover is worm-eaten and cracked. As a missal (a book containing the texts used in the celebration of the Mass), it was primarily meant to be read from by the priest during the church service, and thus  designed to be functional rather than lavish.  In all aspects of its production, it is a typical example of missals produced in Italy in the late 12th – early 13th century. Why, then, is this book one of the most intriguing in The Walters’ collection, as well as one of the most popular, visited by many from around the world each year?


Venetian (Artist) / Pages from The St. Francis Missal / 1172-1228 (Medieval) / Acquired by Henry Walters / Not on view

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This Manuscript Page has a 5 o’clock Shadow

What is that? Mold? Ink splatter? No, it’s stubble. Sometimes we come across fun surprises in manuscripts that remind us the animal origins of vellum.

Sometimes we come across fun surprises in manuscripts that remind us the animal origins of vellum.
hairypage

What is that? Mold? Ink splatter?

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