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 surprise 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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Today’s bounty

Today I took a day off at the library to go… visit another library! This afternoon, my wife and I went to the Atwater Library and Computer Center. Founded in 1828 as the Montreal Mechanics’ Institution (the first in continental British North America) to “educate workers for the emerging industries”, it is now registered as charity and acts as a community library, digital learning centre and meeting place. It is a private library but it is opened to everyone (for an annual membership fee of $35 — and, as they say, “[u]nlike municipal libraries, we don’t ask people to show ID documents or proof of their address”). Like all anglophone cultural institutions it relies mostly on donations and volunteer service. It receives over 100,000 visitors annually as it offers “courses and workshops to help young and old master technology in the digital age, (…) literary and educational events, financial literacy sessions, exhibitions on literature and history, (…) and much more.” The library is housed in a heritage building (built between 1818 and 1820) located in Westmount (1200 Atwater Ave., corner of Tupper St.). It is a beautiful place. The floor of the mezzanine is made of glass panels. It has a respectable collections of books and audio-visual documents (nearly 40,000 titles).

Our main reason to visit the library was its Annual Fall Books sale. The donations of documents that doesn’t make it to the library’s collection are sold to help raise funds. There’s a wide selection of new and used books, CDs, DVDs available at very reasonable prices (between $0.50 for paperbacks and $1 for hard covers, to a range of $5 to $20 for larger art books). There was a lot of interesting books, but I had to limit myself because most of them were rather voluminous. I found quite a bounty.

Today's Bounty

It purchased only two books but they were quite a find. First, I got The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker ($15, a huge book of 11.25 x 13.25 inches, 2 inches thick and weighting about six pounds!) which presents a collection of the editorial and comical illustrations published in the famous magazine since its founding in 1925 up to 2004 (date of publication of the book). I really love those cartoons and can’t wait to read that (although it’s quite heavy to manipulate)! [ Amazon / Biblio / Goodreads / WorldCat ]

Since I am currently writing about Books of Hours, it is quite serendipitous that the second book I purchased was The Belles Heures of Jean, Duke of Berry ($5). It offers colour reproductions (with commentary) of every folio of the beautiful devotional illuminated manuscript (now hosted in The Cloisters Collection of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art). It was commissioned around 1409 by Jean, duc de Berry to the Limbourg brothers just a few years before they also illustrated the more famous Très Riches Heures for the same patron. It is a very beautiful and amazing book. It will probably take me a while before going through it.  [ Amazon / Biblio / Goodreads / Wikipedia / WorldCat ]

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The death of a garden

[ iPhone 8+, 2018/10/27 ]

I guess the gardening season is over. The frost has killed the herbs, vegetables and flowers. We’ve started removing the flower pots, cleaning up and preparing the back yard for winter. It is both sad and satisfying at the same time… Even in its death, a garden can be beautiful and bring joy to the heart.

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