Katherine Hours

Jean Bourdichon
French, Tours, about 1480 - 1485
Tempera colors, gold, and ink on parchment bound between wood boards covered with red velvet
6 7/16 x 4 9/16 in.
MS. 6

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Lay spirituality spurred the popularity of personal books of hours in the late Middle Ages. A book of hours is a private prayer book with a core group of prayers and readings structured around the eight daily devotional services practiced by the clergy. Books of hours also contain a calendar of Church feasts, prayers to saints, and a service for the dead. They were designed for the laity and were frequently tailored to a patron's individual interests.

Jean Bourdichon, court painter to four successive French kings, illuminated this book of hours, which represents some of his earliest work. He produced glorious miniatures with sophisticated landscapes, dramatic lighting, and monumental figures. Illuminations in books of hours, usually placed at the beginnings of the individual prayers, provided a visual focus, aiding the reader in his or her meditations.

The intertwined initials I and K appear frequently in the borders of the manuscript, with the I embraced by a loop that forms the arms of the K . The letters are probably the initials of a husband and wife who commissioned the book. The K probably stands for Katherine since the book contains several prayers to Saint Catherine of Alexandria, after whom women in medieval France were often named.

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