Books of Ours

MBAMOn October 16th, after a lengthy trek in the Mount Royal Park to admire the autumn foliage, we went to the Museum of Fine Arts to have a look at a small exhibition about books of hours. Titled “Resplendent Illuminations” the exhibit displays Books of Hours from the medieval and Renaissance eras (13th to the 16th Century) but the interesting part is that they are all from Quebec (seven private and public collections). The exhibit, born from in-depth academic research, offers more than 50 artifacts (leaves, complete manuscripts, prints) and is held at the MMFA (pavillon Jean-Noël Desmarais – niveau S2) from September 5, 2018 to January 6, 2019.

Created for the Christian faithfuls (not for men of the cloth but for lay people), Books of Hours offered a collection of calendar of holy and religious feasts as well as passages from the gospels and prayers. They were used for devotion but also to learn reading. What’s characterize them however is that they were personalized with family information (births and weddings) and illuminated with miniature paintings (illuminations) illustrating the life of Christ, the saints or the Virgin Mary. Very minute and beautiful art.

It is really amazing that the faithfuls of New France would bring such beautiful manuscripts with them (or order them abroad) to express their devotion and that those books ended up being so well preserved. Unfortunately, to satisfy the thirst of modern collectors, such beautiful manuscripts were often cut open and sold by the pages (to maximize profits). That’s why many of the artifacts displayed are simple folio. I am quite surprised to see that most Books of Hours are so small, usually in duodecimo book format (each folio has been folded four times to make twelve leaves or twenty-four pages). A detail that I didn’t know: some books of hours were produced AFTER the invention of the printing press (c1450)… The exhibit display seven of those, where wood- and metal cuts replaced illuminations.

Catalogue_raisonné_des_livres_dHeuresThe catalog of this magnificent exhibit (and more) has been published (in French): Catalogue raisonné des livres d’Heures conservés au Québec, edited by Brenda Dunn-Lardeau. Québec, Presses de l’Université du Québec, 2018. 468 pages. $48 (softcover)/$55 (hardcover), ISBN 978-2-7605-4975-3. [ Amazon / BAnQ / Biblio / WorldCat ]

It is a small exhibit (only two rooms) but it is quite enlightening and well-worth seeing for all (ancient) books lovers. You really should take the time to go see it.

Here are some pictures that I took as a memento:

First room

Second room

More pictures are available on my Flickr album. View the legends for all pictures after the jump

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