Today’s manuscript is the Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux, a selection that isn’t nearly as famous as yesterday’s Book of Kells but is widely known in art history. The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux is an example of a book of hours, a calendar of prayers for the hours of the day and the main religious events of the year. Usually owned by the wealthiest members of society, books of hours were often heavily decorated with illustrations, historiated or otherwise embellished initials, and elaborate marginal decorations. These profuse illuminations factor heavily into any study of medieval manuscripts, and this is definitely not the only book of hours I will discuss this month.
The manuscript was made by artist Jean Pucelle circa 1324-1328 for the young Jeanne d’Evreux (1310-1317) on the occasion of her wedding to King Charles IV of France. The book’s numerous, highly-detailed illuminations befit its royal provenance. Its size, however, might come as something of a surprise. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s entry for the manuscript in its online collection database – the work now belongs to the Met’s medieval outpost, The Cloisters Collection – the Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux measures 3 7/8″ x 2 13/16″ x 1 1/2″ when closed. In other words, it’s tiny! I spoke yesterday about the potential for disconnect between the true scale of works and their appearance with digital enhancements. In no case is this more true than it is for the Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux. No matter how much my medieval art professor prepared me for it, I was still shocked when I stood before the book in its little glass case and realized that it was smaller than the palm of my hand. Believe it or not, the images in this post are at least several times larger than the actual book is!
Unlike the Book of Kells, which contains details primarily of the ornamental and non-representational variety, the decoration in the Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux largely depicts people, animals, and buildings with a much higher degree of attention to the naturalistic detail. The stylistic differences between the two manuscripts are consistent with the larger evolution of European artistic trends between the 800s and early 1300s. The muted color scheme, however, is not characteristic of a larger trend, as many other books contemporary with the Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux are every bit as colorful as the Book of Kells. Much has been made of the subject matter depicted in the Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux, particularly in the marginal illustrations, but it would take me the entire rest of the month to go through the subtleties of the various theories that have been suggested on the topic. Suffice it to say that many scholars have read some pretty shocking things into the illustrations in this seemingly innocent and pious little book.