Editionen

The Sobieski Hours

A Most Beautiful Manuscript from the British Royal Collection

Windsor Castle, The Royal Library


Sixty miniatures illuminated in the finest technique

What paintings. What intoxicating colour. What wonderful scenic compositions attributed to the ­Bedford Master. The Sobieski Hours offers sixty full-page miniatures and more than four hundred perfectly composed scenes. Like Old Master panel paintings, they contain an ­extraordinary cornucopia of detail, which the reader must first absorb in order to understand in full.

 

Collaborative work of three Masters

The great number of miniatures in the Sobieski Hours meant that the leading Bedford artist could not paint them all, but he was the overall director of planning and he was ably supported in his work by very talented collaborators. The Fastolf Master and the Master of the Munich Golden Legend helped to complete the illumination of this ­beautiful book.

 

A mystery surrounds the patron – Can the secret be revealed?

For whom, however, was this remarkable book of hours originally intended? For many years it was thought that Margaret of Burgundy, the oldest sister of Philip the Good, was the first to own the manuscript, suggesting that it was a wedding gift upon her marriage to Arthur III, Duke of Brittany. In the volume of commentary accompanying the facsimile edition, the Bedford specialist Jenny Stratford introduces new research that sheds new light on this ­mystery.

In the seventeenth century, the Sobieski Hours was treasured at the court of the Polish king, John III ­Sobieski. In 1719, his granddaughter, Maria Clementina Sobieska, married James Francis Edward ­Stuart (1688–1766), the Old Pretender. The younger son of James and Clementina, Henry Benedict ­Stuart, became a Cardinal. After his death in 1807 and following his wishes, the Sobieski Hours was given to the Prince Regent, the future King George IV. The Royal Library at Windsor was created in the 1830s at the instigation of King William IV. The Sobieski Hours is one of the greatest treasures of the Royal Library.

 

More Than Four Hundred Works of Art From the Golden Age of Gothic Illumination

A single illuminator could never have created such a monumental work of art as the Sobieski Hours without assistance. Just as the Très Riches Heures was the work of illuminators who collaborated over several decades, the Sobieski Hours was produced over an extended period of time by leading masters of the age. As well as work in the finest Parisian style of the ­Bedford Master, miniatures were executed by ­talented ­emulators, producing some of the best work of the earlier fifteenth century.

Carefully modelled drapery and varied figure types with individualized expressions are characteristic of the Bedford style and are engagingly ­interpreted in the more than 400 scenes contained within the sixty miniatures of the Sobieski Hours.

A second prominent artist, known as the ­Fastolf Master, who worked in Paris and in ­Normandy, collaborated with the Bedford Master and ­often based his own compositions on the Bedford ­Master’s models. The Master of the Munich Golden Legend and his associates created a whole series of miniatures. This artist is a follower of the Bedford Master, but his miniatures are in his own striking style.

 

Lavish narratives in brilliantly composed images

The special appeal of the Bedford Master’s ­pictorial compositions lies in his engaging handling of narrative and in the brilliant way the miniatures are arranged into a harmonious whole, exceptionally pleasing to the eye. Two kinds of composition coexist in this manuscript. The first, illustrating for example the Hours of the Virgin, are those with an overall perspective, in which all the scenes take place within a unifying framework. These can be remarkable panoramas with landscapes and fantastical architecture containing scaled-down loggias and interior space in three dimensions. In later sections of the manuscript, ­smaller individual scenes tell an unfolding story. ­Miniatures are divided into six or nine separate compartments within a golden frame.

 

Exquisite colours, gold and silver

All the illuminators employed the finest pigments, introducing skilfull accents in brilliant lapis ­lazuli and red, while varied greens harmonise with warm browns and greys. On every page gold shimmers in the haloes, the borders, the initials, the line-endings. Silver is also found in many miniatures.

 

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The Sobieski Hours

The Sobieski Hours

Das Sobieski-Stundenbuch

The Sobieski Hours at a glance

London, Windsor Castle, The Royal Library

Made: c. 1430
In: Paris
Format: 27,5 × 18,5 cm
Extent: 468 pages (234 leaves)
Contents: Book of Hours
Language: Latin, French
Artist: Bedford Master, Fastolf Master, Master of the Munich Golden Legend


Provenance: For many years it was thought that Margaret of Burgundy, the oldest sister of Philip the Good, was the first to own the manuscript. In the volume of commentary accompanying the facsimile edition, the Bedford specialist Jenny Stratford introduces new research that sheds new light on this ­mystery.

In the seventeenth century, the Sobieski Hours was treasured at the court of the Polish king, John III ­Sobieski. In 1719, his granddaughter, Maria Clementina Sobieska, married James Francis Edward ­Stuart, the Old Pretender. The younger son of James and Clementina, Henry Benedict ­Stuart, became a Cardinal. After his death in 1807 and following his wishes, the Sobieski Hours was given to the Prince Regent, the future King George IV. The Royal Library at Windsor was created in the 1830s at the instigation of King William IV. The Sobieski Hours is one of the greatest treasures of the Royal Library.

 

The facsimile edition of the Sobieski Hours will be published in winter 2016/2017.