The Work in Close-Up

King François I’s Book of Hours is a rare gem, a mix of precious metalwork, jewelry and illumination. Discover this dazzling masterpiece.

The front cover

The front cover is composed of an oval cornelian plaque surrounded by four heads of cherubim. The scene on the plaque depicts Christ on the Cross, kneeling at the foot of which are St. Francis of Assisi receiving the Stigmata and St. Jerome in Penitence. Above and below, two white enameled bands bear a Latin inscription in black enamel letters: “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.” The border of the cover is decorated with gold and black arabesques representing masks, flaming torches and arms, studded with precious stones and edged in gold.

The back cover

The back cover is composed of an oval cornelian plaque surrounded by four heads of cherubim. The scene on the plaque depicts the Virgin and Child flanked by St. Barbara and St. Catherine, together with the instruments of their martyrdom. The Virgin and Child are seated on a throne, inscribed on which in Latin are the words: “O Mother of God, remember me.” Two white enameled bands bear the Latin inscription: “O Mary, Mother of Grace and Mother of Mercy, protect us from our enemies and receive us at the hour of death.” The border of the cover, decorated with gold and black arabesques representing masks, flaming torches and arms, is studded with precious stones and edged in gold.

The spine

The spine of the book of hours, covered in gold and enameled scrolls, is studded all over with ruby and turquoise cabochons. These uncut stones recall examples of Ottoman precious metalwork in which these two stones alternated, dating from the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, who became sultan in 1520 and with whom François I formed an alliance against the Hapsburgs in 1536.

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