The Book of Hours of Marguerite d’Orléans

Enchanting Miniatures – Border Illuminations Replete with Stories

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. latin 1156B

Impressive 15th-Century Panorama

Readers opening up the Book of Hours of Marguerite d’Orléans will see the entire late mediaeval world spread out before them. The unexpected variety of scenes from everyday life and the brilliant, warm colours are immediately enchanting. Set at regular intervals, forty-one miniatures of the highest artistic quality ornament the 210 pages measuring 20.7 × 15 cm. In addition there are twenty-four calendar medallions framed in gold, and forty-two historicized borders, featuring a panorama of the fifteenth century in its many different facets.


The French Royal Family’s Love of Books

Marguerite d’Orléans (1404–1466) was a member of the French aristocracy. She was the granddaughter of the French king, Charles V, and the great-niece of Jean, Duc de Berry. The former’s book collection constituted the foundation of the French national library, and the latter was considered the greatest bibliophile of the Middle Ages. Marguerite must have inherited the bibliophile blood of her famous forefathers. How else to explain the fact that one of the most original books of hours was created just for her?


A Wedding Gift?

In 1426 Marguerite d’Orléans married Richard d’Etampes, Duke of Brittany. That same year the duke commissioned an illuminator in the Breton city of Rennes to create a book of hours that may have been intended as a wedding gift. Many images of the couple’s joint coats-of-arms, their monogram, “r&m,” in almost all of the initials, and a portrait of Marguerite praying to the Virgin Mary emphasize the very personal nature of this book of hours.

The Breton illuminator ornamented the calendar with twenty-four quatrefoils and signs of the Zodiac, as well as typical occupations for each month, embedded in a diverse, imaginatively decorated framework.


Brilliant Gold Miniatures and Unusual Borders

The forty-one miniatures in the main section and the original borders—all ornamented in brilliant gold or shimmering silver—were made around the year 1430. They are all from the hand of the “Master of Marguerite d’Orléans,” who is identified today through the outstanding work he did on this masterpiece. In the 1450s Marguerite d’Orléans had her book of hours updated according to the taste of the times. Etienne Sauderat, from the circle of the Bedford Master, added decorative elements to different borders.


Great Stylistic Role Models: the Boucicaut Master and the Limbourg Brothers

The Master of Marguerite d’Orléans probably trained in Paris in the circle of the Boucicaut Master; he may even have been his pupil. Consequently, he deftly adapted many of the Boucicaut Master’s stylistic elements to suit his own needs. Afterward, his first commissions took him to Bourges, the site of the last workshop of the famous Limbourg brothers. And indeed, the Book of Hours of Marguerite d’Orléans leaves us with no doubt that he must have been very familiar with the work of the Limbourg brothers. He probably also produced Marguerite’s book of hours in Rennes, a thriving city in Brittany that had been largely spared the ravages of the Hundred Years’ War.


A Window on the Middle Ages: Tremendous Diversity of Scenes Depicted in the Borders

The forty-one miniatures of scenes from the New Testament and the images of the saints are among some of the most beautiful of the epoch. The surrounding borders make the book of hours one of the most unique testimonies to feudal life around 1430. First of all, scenes from the Old Testament do not appear in medieval guise. Instead, the illuminator’s imagination never fails to portray the most diverse facets of mediaeval life in an interesting manner: knights prove themselves in tournaments and in battle; pilgrims travel to Santiago de Compostela; grapes are grown on trellises; birds caught and deer hunted; wheat is harvested and ships are unloaded in the harbour.

Originally, the Master of Marguerite d’Orléans specialized in illustrating secular, literary texts such as chronicles, wonders of the world, and secrets of nature. As a consequence of the confusion of the Hundred Years’ War, though, he was probably forced to turn to illuminating books of hours. Yet, he did not lose his tendency to tell stories, drawing equally on ancient sagas and contemporary events from the Hundred Years’ War for his material.


Masterpiece of Book Binding

The eighteenth-century binding alone is a true feast for the eyes! The leather mosaic binding is decorated all over with the finest of gilt tooling and stylized golden daisies. Small sections of brown and olive-coloured leather are integrated into the red morocco leather. The binding is thought to be the work of Antoine-Michel Padeloup. He was the royal bookbinder to Louis XV and the Marquise de Pompadour, and perfected the technique of making magnificent leather mosaic bindings. Between 1725 and 1733 he carried out the commission for the Book of Hours of Marguerite d’Orléans, given to him by book collector Jean-Baptiste Châtre de Cangé. The book of hours ultimately went with his collection to the royal library, which is today the French National Library in Paris.

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Das Stundenbuch der Margarete von Orléans, fol. 136v/137r

The Book of Hours of Marguerite d'Orléans at a glance

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France,
Ms. latin 1156B

Made: around 1426, 1430 and 1450
In: Rennes, Bourges and Paris
Format: approx. 20,7 × 15 cm
Extent: 420 pages (210 leaves)
Contents: Book of Hours
Language: Latin
Artists: Master of Marguerite d'Orléans, Étienne Sauderat, unknown Breton Master

Patron: probably Richard d'Étampes, Duke of Brittany, and husband of Marguerite d'Orléans

Provenance: Between 1725 and 1733 the bookbinder to the court Antoine-Michel Padeloup carried out the commission for the Book of Hours of Marguerite d’Orléans, given to him by book collector Jean-Baptiste Châtre de Cangé. In 1733 the book of hours went with his collection to the royal library, which is today the French National Library in Paris.

The fine art facsimile edition of the Book of Hours of Marguerite d'Orléans (facsimile and commentary volume) has been published in autumn 2013 by Quaternio Verlag Luzern and is available.

Price on request.