Prayer Book of Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg

Simon Bening
Flemish, Bruges, about 1525 - 1530
Tempera colors, gold paint, gold leaf, and ink on parchment
6 5/8 x 4 1/2 in.

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The esteemed Flemish artist Simon Bening lavishly illuminated this prayer book for the powerful Cardinal Albrecht of Brandenburg, Elector and Archbishop of Mainz and an ambitious patron of the arts. Personal prayer books played an important role in the daily spiritual life of clergy and laity alike. In the later Middle Ages, as the devout sought a more personal and intimate approach to spirituality, their books became increasingly individualized in their content and decoration. The text of this book is a collection of sixty-two devotional prayers, the majority of which focuses on Jesus' life and Passion. It was copied from a book printed in Augsburg in 1521, a German translation of the original Latin text. The Cardinal, however, chose to commission a hand-written and illuminated copy, probably preferring the luxuriousness of parchment and color-saturated images to the paper and monochromatic woodcuts of printed books. He selected an artist who could bring out the rich narrative and subtle psychological elements in the story of Christ's Passion. The sequence of forty-one brilliantly colored, full-page miniatures that Bening produced for the manuscript was designed to evoke an intense empathic response as the viewer contemplated Jesus' suffering.

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