BOOK OF HOURS, Use of Saintes

BOOK OF HOURS, Use of Saintes, in Latin, illuminated manuscript on parchment

Northern France, c. 1470-80

£ 30,000 

95 x 65mm (3.7 x 2.6in). 190 leaves on parchment (plus two paper endleaves at front and back), lacking single leaves after fols. 43, 69, 73, 77, 94, 128 and 190, and two leaves after fol. 91, else complete, collation: i12, ii-iii8, iv2 ,v8 , vi7 (wanting vi), vii-ix8, x6 (wanting i and vi), xi7 (wanting iii), xii8, xiii7 (wanting ii-iii and vii), xiv-xvi8, xvii-xviii (both wanting i), xix-xxiv8, xxv7 (wanting viii).

16 lines, justified 52 x 32mm (2 x 1.3in), ruled in red ink, written in very small, dark brown lettre bâtarde, rubrics in red. Calendar in red with significant names in blue, line fillers, illuminated initials in red and blue, with gold and white tracery. Panel border decoration framing text on outer margin throughout 146 pages, with designs of swirling hairline stems bearing numerous acanthus and ivy leaves, fruits and flowers in blue, green and red, and gold bezants. Three large initials measuring 5 lines high, containing white and blue flowers on liquid gold grounds, including illuminated full panel borders on top, bottom and outer margins of text. Five large miniatures by Maître François, in arch-toped compartments in same decorative style, including birds, berries and drolleries, above large initials and five lines of text. Minor stains, discolouration and slight cockling to first and last two leaves, some thumbing to edges of first leaves, headband slightly lifting, nineteenth-century label on front pastedown with “No 514”, inkstamp of a ‘VS’ within a circle on front endleaf. Beautiful seventeenth-century French olive-brown morocco with gilt ornamental roundel motifs filled with small dotted tooling around cover borders and spine, some rubbing on raised bands, marbled endleaves, gilt edges.

A tiny Book of Hours produced in Paris for the extremely rare south-western French Use of Saintes.


1. Illuminated in Paris for a patron in the south-western French town of Saintes. The Calendar has SS. Albinus, bishop of Angers (1 March), the Litany includes SS. Eutropius, Ambrose, Bibianus, Trojanus and Palladius, all bishops of Saintes, St. Machutus (Malo), who lived in exile at Saintes, and St. Fronto, apostle of Périgueux.

2. Calendar leaves used in the seventeenth or eighteenth century to record family events in French. These were later erased and now only partly visible through UV light.

3. Sold in Sotheby’s, 6 July 2000, lot 83.


Beautifully intricate miniatures painted with extensive liquid gold highlights.

(1) fol. 31r, the Annunciation, the Virgin kneeling before Gabriel on the right with a banderole “ave maria gracia”, a green canopy and architectural frame above, gothic windows behind, and border including white flowers, red berries, songbirds and a peacock; (2) fol. 57r, the Nativity, the Child lying on the hem of the Virgin’s robe who kneels with Joseph outside the stable, a donkey and a cow behind, a hill to the right; (3) fol. 64r, the Annunciation to the Shepherds, two shepherds and a shepherdess gazing up as two angels appear in the heavens holding a musical scroll, sheep in the foreground drinking from a spring, a dog asleep, landscape and two towers in the background; (4) fol. 86r, the Coronation of the Virgin, with the Virgin in Heaven kneeling before the Throne of God as an angel leans over a tapestry and places a crown on her head; (5) fol. 98r, David in prayer, kneeling before an open book on a wooden lectern, harp beside him as God appears in the sky above, with a centaur drollery shooting an arrow at a grotesque in the border.


Calendar (f.1r); the Gospel Sequences (f.13r), Obsecro te (f.20r, for male use) and O intemerata (f.24v); the Hours of the Virgin, Use of Saintes, with Matins (f.31r), Lauds (f.44r), Prime (f.57r), Terce (f.64r), Sext (f.70r), None (f.74r), Vespers (f.78r), Compline (f.86r); the Hours of the Cross (f.92r) and of the Holy Spirit (f.95r); Penitential Psalms (f.98r), Litany, Office of the Dead, Suffrages (f.186r).