Book of Hours

Artist or maker:
Bening, Simon (b.c 1483, d.1561)
illuminations by Simon Bening Workshop (active c 1515-1561)
c 1525
Place of production:
Bruges, Belgium
vellum, ink, paint, gold, paper, velvet and pasteboard
Type of object:
Illuminated manuscripts
Accession number:


A harmonious marriage of a complex text and lively illustrations marks this Book of Hours as a particularly fine example of a late hand-produced book. Valuable to modern commentators for its depiction of Mass recited before a winged altarpiece, the many illustrations provide a vivid context of Catholic private devotion in early 16th-century Bruges. The number of prayers included is unusual and probably reflects the personal devotions of its patron.

The manuscript contains 31 miniatures, 24 marginal calendar illustrations, as well as numerous decorative and figural borders and initials, all richly painted in colours and gold. After the calendar, the devotional exercises start with the Hours of the Virgin, a series of prayers, readings and hymns to be performed by lay people at certain times of the day. The Hours follow the pattern known as 'the use of Rome'. Next, rather unusually, come extracts taken from the Bible, normally found before the Hours. The extracts are taken exclusively from the Gospel according to St John, beginning with the Passion, which is normally found at the end. Certain prayers and psalms are also in an unusual position (see Delaissé, Marrow and de Wit, 1977, pp. 581-2).

The manuscript was constructed following typical practices, suggesting it was produced in an experienced workshop (see Delaissé, Marrow and de Wit, 1977, pp. 564-69, 574, 580). At least three scribes wrote the text while the initials and line endings are painted by two distinct hands. The miniatures, of very high quality, are executed in two styles, though the difference here is very slight. Such a large programme must have been shared by several miniaturists, but they have all used the same palette and style. The borders are particularly coherent across the page openings, indicating that the illustrations were meticulously planned in advance, most probably by the master himself.

Similarities with other manuscripts leave no doubt that the workshop that produced this manuscript was run by the accomplished master Simon Bening. The son of an Ghent illuminator, Bening moved permanently to Bruges around 1517. The 1520s were a particularly productive decade, indicating he had a well-established workshop by this date. He specialised in small personal prayer books made for wealthy patrons at home and abroad. Bening's work was admired and collected in his own lifetime. No expense was spared in the production of the Waddesdon manuscript - four colours are used for the initials rather than the normal two or three. The quality of the full page miniatures indicate that Bening had a hand in their illumination.

A love of nature, and a desire to depict it in the most minute detail, inspired Bening in his design. Bening was famed for his use of colour and his ability to render landscapes. The representation of the Mass (fol. 154v) shows a deep understanding of the contemporary architectural, liturgical and devotional context of the ritual. An interest in fashion appears to have structured the innovative composition of the Presentation in the Temple (fol. 79v). Influences from Italian Renaissance buildings appear several times, including in the Annunciation (fol. 14v). The miniature of God blessing the Universe (fol. 164v) exhibits an interest in landscape as a subject in its own right as well as heralding the mastery of spatial recession that characterises Bening's later work. The nocturnal scenes are particularly well rendered, such as in the Annunciation to the Shepherds (fol. 65v). The full-page miniatures are shown framed similar to contemporary panel paintings, indicating how a development of the traditional border played a part in Bening's self-conscious reflection on the importance of his trade as an art, developed during the 1520s (see Marrow, 1984, pp. 553-57 and Dogaer, 1987, p. 172).

At the same time, some of the illustrations and borders refer back to earlier illustrations. They were based on well-established workshop patterns. The monkey tournament (fol. 197r) and hunting scenes (fols 170r, 175r, 186r) relate to illuminations made around 1475 by a Master with connections to Simon's father, Alexander (Hours of Engelbert of Nassau, Bodleian Library MSS Douce 219-220) (see Delaissé, Marrow and de Wit, 1977, pp. 594-5 and T. Kren and S. McKendrik, "Illuminating the Renaissance", Getty, 2003, pp. 134-37). Alexander Bening (d. 1518) married a relation of Hugo van der Goes and built up a large stock of workshop patterns from his friends and relations which he passed to his son (see Kren and McKendrik, 2003, pp. 190-91).

Some illuminations are also repeated in other Bening manuscripts, evidence that workshop practices of re-using designs continued to be employed. It is clear that Bening used some compositions, such as that used for the Waddesdon Lamentation (fol. 185v), throughout his career (see Hindman, 1997, p. 108). The Nativity (fol. 58v), based on altarpieces by Hugo van der Goes, is similar to one found in the earliest dated example of his work, the Imhof Prayerbook of 1511, as well as in many other manuscripts (see Kren and McKendrick, 2003, p. 449, sold Christie's, London, 6 July 2011, lot 26 and Plotzek, 1979-1985, vol. 2, p. 303). The Annunciation (fol. 14v), Presentation at the Temple (fol. 79v), Christ at Gethsemane (fol. 117v), and God creating the fishes (fol. 165r), all relate to illuminations found in other manuscripts (Plotzek, 1979-1985, vol. 2, pp. 303-06; Testa and Marrow, 1986). These comparisons can make dating Bening's manuscripts difficult.

Stylistically, the paintings are close to those found in works dated to the 1520s, such as the Prayerbook of Albrecht von Brandenburg of c. 1525-30 and the Blumen-Stundenbuch of c. 1525 (McKendrick, unpublished note, 2000; and see Kren and McKendrik, 2003, pp.456-7; Brinckmann, 1991). The 1520s appear to have been the most productive decade of Bening's career, during which time he must have developed a large workshop.

Many realistic, low-life and urban details in the calendar's labours of the months suggest this manuscript was made for a wealthy citizen rather than an aristocrat. The scenes for May repeat common imagery used in many Flemish calendars (see T. Kren (ed.), "Renaissance Painting in Manuscripts: Treasures from the British Library" (New York, 1983), p. 80). However, the scene for January shares innovations Bening developed early in his career (cf. the Arcana Calendar, sold Christie's, London, 7 July 2010, lot 46). Saints venerated in Bruges, St Donation and St Basil, are prominent. Two of the prayers, one to be said before an Image of Christ (fols 164-168) and one to the Virgin (fols 214v-215v), appear to be additions to the original plan, probably a late request of the patron. The Suffrages - prayers addressed to saints for intercession - and the Litany, show a preference for Franciscan saints. Two prayers are written for a male supplicant (fols 179r-188v).

The early 16th-century saw a dramatic decline in Bruges's fortunes. In this climate, the patron may have been inspired in his devotional practices by St Francis's concern for the poor as well as the traditional role of the Virgin in assisting the destitute. But in the commission and production of this exquisite Book of Hours, the patron's wealth and the artist's skill was directed to alleviating suffering through costly private devotion rather than more practical forms of charity.

For a detailed list of the illustrations and text content, please see the Physical Description tab.

Phillippa Plock, 2014

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
143 x 108 x 44; 136 x 101 (leaves)
Physical details:
244 folios gathered in 29 quires, including 30 inserted leaves; bound in 19th-century pink velvet over pasteboard.
31 full-page miniatures, 24 marginal calendar illustrations, numerous decorative and historiated (figural) borders and initials, all in colours and gold. Some borders in grisaille or brown and gold.

List of illustrations:

Miniatures are accompanied by related historiated borders (figural depictions of people, animals, or narrative scenes), unless indicated (no hb). Related historiated initials are indicated (i).

1. Interior scene with a man seated before a fire, chopping wood (January), fols 1v-2r
2. Pruning vines (February), fols 2v-3r
3. Felling trees and garden digging (March), fols 3v-4r
4. Sheep to pasture, milking and butter-making (April), fols 4v-5r
5. Spring festivities (May), fols 5v-6r
6. Sheep shearing (June), fols 6v-7r
7. Mowing and hay-making (July), fols 7v-8r
8. Harvesting corn (August), fols 8v-9r
9. Ploughing, harrowing and sowing (September), fols 9v-10r
10. Wine making, cattle trading (October), fols 10v-11r
11. Beating flax and winnowing corn (November), fols 11v-12r
12. Killing and quatering a pig (December), fols 12v-13r
13. Annunciation, the Fall, Gideon (Hours of Virgin, Matins), fols 14v-15r (i)
14. Visitation, Mary going to Elizabeth's (Lauds), fols 41v-42r
15. Nativity, Annunciation to Shepherds (Prime), fols 58v-59r
16. Annunciation to Shepherds, genre scene (Terce), fols 65v-66r
17. Adoration of Magi, probably Magi and Herod (Sext), fols 72v-73r
18. Presentation in Temple, prophet (None), fols 79v-80r
19. [cut out miniature], Massacre of Innocents (Vespers) fol. 86r
20. Coronation of Virgin, Virgin's Funeral, Virgin in Glory, fols 97v-98r (i)
21. Christ's entry to Jerusalem, genre scene (Variants) fols 106v-107r
22. Christ at Gethsemane, Christ's Arrest (Passion), fols 117v-118r
23. St John on Patmos (St John's Gospel) fol. 132v (no hb)
24. Crucifixion, Flagellation, Crown of Thorns, Christ Carrying Cross (Hours of the Cross), fols 135v-136r
25. Pentecost (Hours of Holy Spirit), fol. 145v (no hb)
26. Celebration of Mass (Votive Mass of Virgin) fol. 154v (no hb)
27. God blesses Universe, Creation of animals, birds and fishes, Adam and Eve (Prayer), fols 164v-165r (i)
28. St Anselm, Hawking, Monkey (Oratio Ancelmi), fols 169v-170r (i)
29. Virgin at Cross, Hunter and prey (Stabat Mater), fols 174v-175r
30. Virgin and Child (Obsecro te), fol. 179v (no hb)
31. Lamentation, Hunter gives prey to lady (O Intemerata), fols 185v-186r
32. St John the Baptist, Christ's Baptism (Suffrage), fols 189v-190r
33. St James the Great (Suffrage), fol. 191v (no hb)
34. Martyrdom of St Sebastian, river barge, archer (Suffrage), fols 193v-194r (i)
35. St Christopher, monkey tournament (Suffrage), fols 196v-197r
36. St Jerome in desert and healing lion (Suffrage), fols 199v-200r
37. St Francis's Stigmata and going to church (Suffrage), fols 202v-203r
38. St Anthony of Padua (Suffrage), fol. 204v (no hb)
39. St Anne with the Virgin and Child (Suffrage), fol. 206v (no hb)
40. St Catherine and her martyrdom (Suffrage), fols 208v-209r
41. St Barbara (Suffrage), fol. 211v (no hb)
42. Virgin and Child (Prayer to Virgin), fol. 214v (no hb)
43. David praying with Bathsheba behind, David and lion, David's penitence (Seven Penitential Psalms), fols 216v-217r (i)

Text content:

Calendar fols 1v-13r; Hours of the Virgin, use of Rome, with variants fols 14r-116v; Passion according to St. John, followed by antiphon fols 117r-130r; Prayer of Christ's Wound fols 131r-131v; St. John's Gospel extract fols 132r-134r; Short Hours of the Cross fols 135r-144v; Short Hours of the Holy Spirit fols 145r-153v; Votive Mass to Virgin fols 154r-162r; Prayers fols 164r-188v; Suffrages to the Saints fols 189r-213r; Prayer to Virgin fols 214r-215v; 7 Penitential Psalms and Litany fols 216r-244v.
[erased signature?]
Owner's mark
[inside front cover, brown ink, possibly early 19th-C hand]

Owner's mark
[inside front cover, dealer's code]

MS. 31
Owner's mark
[inside front cover, Baron Edmond de Rothschild inventory number, pencil, written twice]
... te no.22 no.1
[inside front cover, pencil]
Bibliothèque du Baron J. de Rothschild
No. 60
Ex Libris
[on fly leaf, blue label, inventory no. in black ink]


Acquired from Dr David-Didier Roth (b.1798, d.1885) by Baron James de Rothschild (b.1792, d.1868) probably around 1855; remained in the possession of his wife Baroness Betty de Rothschild (b.1805, d.1886); by descent to her son Baron Edmond de Rothschild (b.1845, d.1934); by descent to his son James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); inherited by his wife Dorothy de Rothschild (b.1895, d.1988); given to Waddesdon The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) in 1971.
Waddesdon (National Trust)
Gift of Dorothy de Rothschild, 1971



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L M J Delaissé, James Marrow, John de Wit; Illuminated Manuscripts: The James A de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor; Fribourg; Office du Livre; 1977; pp. 562-595, cat. no. MS 26., figs 1-35; Full technical description, dated c 1540.
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Anton von Euw, Joachim Plotzek; Die Handschriften der Sammlung Ludwig; 4 vols; Cologne; Schnütgen Museum; 1979-1985; vol. 2, pp. 303, 305-06; Comparison with fols 14v, 58v, 79v, 165r.
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Kim Woods; Reform within the cult image: the German winged altarpiece before the Reformation; Peter Humfrey, Martin Kemp, The Altarpiece in the Renaissance, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1990; pp. 87-89, fig. 41 (fol. 154v).
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Christopher de Hamel; The Rothschilds and their Collections of Illuminated Manuscripts; London; The British Library; 2005; pp. 21, 31, 54, pl. 8 (fol. 14v).

Indexed terms