François I’s Book of hours

What is a book of hours?

A book of hours is a devotional prayer book dating from the late Middle Ages generally used by Catholic laypeople. It contains a collection of texts, prayers, and most often psalms, which are said at different times of day (i.e. “hours”) on certain liturgical feast days such as those devoted to the Virgin Mary. A book of hours usually contains a calendar of Church feasts, the Hours of the Virgin, the Seven Penitential Psalms, and an Office for the Dead. There is no set model for a book of hours and its composition may vary, according to the wishes of the purchaser.

King François I’s Book of Hours, illumination

An exceptional masterpiece

King François I’s Book of Hours, binding

Much more than a book, King François I’s Book of Hours is a veritable jewel. The illuminated manuscript is bound in a cover of gold, studded with rubies and turquoise stones and adorned with two plaques carved in cornelian, a precious red stone. The work came with its own bookmark, an extraordinary piece of jewelry in itself, inlaid with precious stones on one side and a figure of Christ carved in agate on the other. The illuminated manuscript, adorned with sixteen illustrations, was painted in 1538, then bound, before being purchased the same year by King François I.

Sumptuous objects are the most powerful evocation of life in the Renaissance court, but most have since been destroyed by wars, revolutions and changing tastes. Very few items from the splendid collections assembled by the Valois kings have survived: it is something of a miracle that such a jewel as this still exists! Yet now it will regain its rightful place amidst the other jewels on display at the Louvre, attesting in dazzling fashion to our history.

It will regain its rightful place amidst the other jewels on display at the Louvre, attesting in dazzling fashion to our history.

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