Ruskin Hours

French, northeastern France, about 1300
Tempera colors and gold leaf on parchment bound between wood boards covered with dark red leather
10 3/8 x 7 3/16 in.

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Made in northeastern France about 1300, this manuscript is a relatively early example of a book of hours. Later in the 1300s, books of hours superseded psalters as the principal texts for personal devotion.

The profusely decorated manuscript includes almost one hundred historiated initials, miniatures that illustrate the calendar, and a rare feature, an illustrated litany. Further illuminations called marginalia appear on many of the pages. Sometimes these scenes relate directly to a historiated initial on the same page; more often, the secular vignettes of humorous animals and figures are meant to provide a playful counterpart to the religious narratives. The illuminations, painted by an anonymous artist, exhibit vivacity and an attention to detail characteristic of the high Gothic style. In the 1800s the celebrated art critic and medieval enthusiast John Ruskin owned this book of hours, which has since taken his name. Ruskin was so fond of the book that he included designs from it in his own book, Modern Painters, helping to popularize medieval culture.

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