Franciscan Books of Hours from Italy in the Newberry Library
Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 4 (1987)
The study of illuminated books has been largely restricted to those books that feature the most remarkable miniatures: the splendid, the bizarre, the possessions of the rich and famous. The more ordinary, less lavishly illustrated Volumes have been virtually ignored. In particular, the relationship between books and the evolution of the Church, liturgy, and religious orders has been little explored, but research into their pictures and texts may very well yield valuable insight into late medieval life, literacy and thought. It is in this light that I shall discuss three such books, now housed in the collections of the Newberry Library (MSS 84, 85, 86); all are books of hours in Latin, written in Gothic script; they are considered to be products of late fifteenth-century Italy. An important resource for my discussion has been Paul Saenger’s catalogue of Newberry manuscripts, now in press, almost the only source of information about the books. Intended as they were for a relatively broad and diverse segment of the populace for their daily devotions, books of hours varied widely according to local religious custom and preferences and wealth of individual owners. It would not be surprising, therefore, to discover such variation in the three Newberry books, but I hope to demonstrate that, in fact, these books are characterized by some striking similarities, similarities which have their roots in social and liturgical developments in late medieval Italy.