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October 18, 2005–January 8, 2006 at the Getty Center
For three hundred years, from about 1250 to 1550, the book of hours was the "bestseller" in Europe. More books of hours were commissioned and collected, bought and sold, given (and stolen), bequeathed, and inherited than any other type of book, including the Bible. With the invention of printing in the mid-15th century, these books became available to a new and even larger audience. If a person only owned one book at this time, it was a book of hours.
As prayer books for private devotion centered on the Virgin Mary, books of hours offered the lay public direct, democratic, and potentially unceasing access to Mary, God, and a multitude of saints.
The popularity of books of hours derived from their images as well as their texts. They are the picture galleries of the Middle Ages. Their images also had a practical function, marking the beginning of important texts and serving as aids in meditation.
The Morgan Library is the repository of one of the greatest collections of books of hours in the world. This exhibition displays 58 manuscript or printed books—a selection that includes some of the most famous books from their collection.