Writing in the West

22. Unfinished book of hours

Unfinished French book of hours early 16th C

Book of hours, 2011-4249


Fifteenth century, French, book of hours, vellum. 11 lines of text on front, 12 lines on back. Written in black ink, with additional lettering in red ink on back.


This is possibly from an exemplar, a book used to copy from in order to create other copies. The page has the capitals marked by the scribe as an instruction to the illuminator, but they have not been completed. The prickings for the rulings can be seen in the outer margin; these have not been trimmed off.


A Book of Hours was a selection of texts based on the liturgy of the clergy but designed to be used by lay people. The actual selection varied from copy to copy, but most would contain material from the Four Gospels, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, various psalms, a litany of saints, and an office for the dead. Such a book would be used by its pious owner (echoing the monastic practice) at each canonical hour (hence ‘book of hours’) . These were: Matins (during the night, at about 2 a.m.), Lauds (at dawn), Prime (around 6 a.m.), Terce (around 9 a.m.), Sext (around 12 noon), None (around 3 p.m.), Vespers (around 6 p.m.), and Compline (around 7 p.m.). Such books were very popular, particularly in the fifteenth century, and many hundreds of copies have survived in both manuscript and printed form.