Book of Hours for Rome Use
Artist/maker unknown, Flemish
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In the late thirteenth century, with the emergence of a middle class made wealthy through commerce and a corresponding increase in literacy, a new form of book became popular, the Book of Hours. These prayer books for lay persons were based on those used by members of the religious orders but generally contained greatly reduced and simplified texts.
A book of hours was devoted primarily to the veneration of the Virgin Mary, and included a calendar and prayers chosen according to local usage or personal taste. Although the book was organized around prayers that were appropriate to various hours of the day (hence its name), it was mostly used in the morning and during Mass. In addition to its religious functions, a book of hours, which was often the only book a family owned, was also used to teach children to read.
While most books of hours were simple in appearance, the volumes most admired today are lavishly illustrated, like this one. Such books were made commercially by both monastic communities and secular scribes, illuminators, and ink and parchment makers. Their illustrations, or illuminations, besides being pleasing to the eye, served as introductions to sections of the text as well as aids to meditation.