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Education Home Search Lesson Plans All Curricula Looking at Illuminated Manuscripts: Lessons and Ideas for Discussion Lesson Plans Looking at Illuminated Manuscripts: An Illuminated Day Planner
Looking at Illuminated Manuscripts: An Illuminated Day Planner

Grades/Level: Middle School (6–8), High School (9–12)
Subjects: Visual Arts
Time Required: 3–5–Part Lesson
Three class periods
Author: J. Paul Getty Museum Education Staff

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Lesson Overview

Students will examine the contents of a book of hours and then compare it to the modern day-planner. They will then create class day-planners/calendars with illuminations that correspond to modern holidays and seasons.

Learning Objectives

Students should be able to:
• understand the function of a book of hours in the 16th century.
• understand that most books made in this period were religious.
• create their own modern illuminated day-planners/calendars.


• Image of The Annunciation by Master of James IV of Scotland, from the Spinola Hours
• More images from the Spinola Hours
• Heavy drawing paper, watercolor pencils, colored pencils, gold leaf or gold paint

Lesson Steps

1. Use the following questions and background information to discuss The Annunciation from the Spinola Hours and the function of a book of hours. Students should use elements and principles of design to discuss the way the artist constructed the image.

Page through the book: Spinola Hours

• What does the name book of hours imply that it might be used for?
• By looking at the image, what do you think some of the subjects of a book of hours would be?
• There were thousands of books of hours made in the late Middle Ages. Why do you think so many religious books were made for people's private use?
• How does the artist relate the border of the page to the miniature? In what ways can you tell the two areas apart?
• How does the artist use repetition to move your eye through the image?
• The image on this page shows the Annunciation, a moment when Mary is told by an angel that she will give birth to the Christ child. The story is taken from the book of Luke in the Bible. Is this what the scene would have looked like in the time of Christ?
• Has anyone ever heard of the phrase "it's a red-letter day"? The phrase comes from the red inks that were used to denote special holidays or feast days in the calendars of books of hours.

Books of Hours
The book of hours is a church calendar and day planner of prayer, for it helps to organize time throughout the year and to structure daily devotion. The central text is the Hours of the Virgin, which includes Psalm verses, hymns, prayers, and readings to be recited during the eight canonical hours of the day: Matins (before dawn), Lauds (daybreak), Prime (6:00 a.m.), Terce (9:00 a.m.), Sext (noon), None (3:00 p.m.), Vespers (sunset), and Compline (evening). In addition, these manuscriptss include a calendar of the major feast days and the tools used to calculate the date of Easter, the most important feast day of the Christian calendar.

Books of hours became the most popular devotional book of the late Middle Ages. Tens of thousands were produced for private use, with adornment ranging from simple decorated initials introducing the major sections, to lavish full-page miniatures preceding each reading.

Books of hours can be seen as an early form of the modern day-planner since it told you at what hours of the day certain prayers were to be read, and listed important days in the year, such as feasts days for saints.


Video: "Using Calendars in the Middle Ages and Renaissance"

2. Explain to students that they will now create their own modern day-planner in the manner of a book of hours like the Spinola Hours.

3. Depending on the size of the class, assign a group of students to each month of the year.

4. Have the students research their particular month as a group and decide what holidays are most important, or could be considered modern "red-letter" days. They should also think about other days or seasons for which they could create images. Many illuminations for calendar pages were based on the seasons for which that calendar page was made.

For an example, see Simon Bening's Gathering Twigs and Villagers on Their Way to Church .

The illuminations could also represent days that mark important historical events.

5. Have the students decide on a layout for their calendar page. Remind students to leave about an inch-and-a-half margin on both sides of their paper so that the book can be bound together. Other examples of layout in medieval calendar pages:
A calendar page for June from the Stammheim missal

A calendar page for June from a French Book of Hours

Have students consider the following:
• How will the text relate to the images?
• Will there be a border, and will it be integrated into the illuminated miniature?
• How many pages will their month take up? If there are three students assigned to each group, a third person could be assigned to create decorated initials and border details.

Just as different artisans created the different components of an illuminated manuscript, different students could be assigned different tasks in creating their own page, such as illuminator, scribe, border decoration, etc. Teamwork will be important for a unified design of the calendar page.

6. Once everyone is finished, bring all the pages together and discuss.
• What relationships do students see between their creations and the Spinola Hours?
• Is there any sign of influence between the imagery seen in the Spinola Hours and the students' finished day planners?
• What illuminations were created based on religious holidays? How are these holidays different from what was seen in the Spinola Hours? How are they the same?


Students will be assessed on their ability to work successfully in teams, participation in the discussion, and on their completion of the project.

Standards Addressed

Visual Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools
Grade 7

Analyze Art Elements and Principles of Design
1.3 Identify and describe the ways in which artists convey the illusion of space (e.g., placement, overlapping, relative size, atmospheric perspective, and linear perspective).
1.4 Analyze and describe how the elements of art and the principles of design contribute to the expressive qualities of their own works of art.

Grade 9-12 proficient
4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.1 Articulate how personal beliefs, cultural traditions, and current social, economic, and political contexts influence the interpretation of the meaning or message in a work of art.

Develop Perceptual Skills and Visual Arts Vocabulary
1.1 Identify and use the principles of design to discuss, analyze, and write about visual aspects in the environment and in works of art, including their own.
1.4 Analyze and describe how the composition of a work of art is affected by the use of a particular principle of design.

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