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Book of Hours for Roman Use (Collins Hours)

Master of the Collins Hours, French, active Amiens, active 1430s - 1440s

Made in Belgium, Europe
Possibly made in Bruges, Europe

c. 1445-1450

Gold and tempera on vellum

Book: 8 3/8 × 6 × 1 7/8 inches (21.3 × 15.2 × 4.8 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The Philip S. Collins Collection, gift of Mrs. Philip S. Collins in memory of her husband, 1945

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  • PublicationLeaves of Gold: Manuscript Illumination from Philadelphia Collections

    The Hour of Prime from the Hours of the Virgin is traditionally illustrated with a Nativity. This version is by the Master of the Collins Hours; he is named after this manuscript, one of the most important Books of Hours in Philadelphia. A gifted illuminator, the Collins Master combined French and Flemish stylistic elements in his art and enjoyed veering from or expanding upon traditional iconography.

    The Master of the Collins Hours trained and worked primarily in Amiens, the northern French city that in the mid-fifteenth century (between 1435 and 1471) was part of the duchy of Burgundy. Like other Amiénois illuminators, the Collins Master gracefully combined French and Flemish stylistic elements in his art. The carefully conceived perspective of the shed in this Nativity ultimately derives from the Boucicaut Master, the influential Parisian illuminator working in the early fifteenth century.1 On the other hand, the prominence given to Joseph and the handmaiden derives from Flemish art, as does the attention to such genre details as the handmaiden's candle, the saddle serving as Christ's pillow, and the costumes of the figures in this and the facing borders. The pooling of the Virgin's drapery, too, is Flemish in nature.

    Aspects of the manuscript's iconography reveal the artist's lively imagination. While the Hours of the Virgin contain the traditional suite of eight miniatures, ranging from the Annunciation to the Coronation of the Virgin, the Hours of the Cross have an unusual Resurrection (at Vespers, fol. 22v) and a most rare Harrowing of Hell (at Compline, fol. 24v). The Harrowing shows Christ freeing the Old Testament worthies from a frightening hell whose fiery landscape and inhabitant beasties predict the scary creations of Hieronymous Bosch. In the Gospel lessons at the beginning of the book the Evangelists Luke, Matthew, and Mark write their Gospels in scriptoria outfitted with wonderfully carpentered desks, lecterns, and shelving (fols. 19v, 32v, 35v). For the Office of the Dead, the artist depicts a priest blessing a coffin with holy water at the portal of a church, a rarely depicted moment in the medieval funeral (fol. 128v).

    Another clever iconographic twist in the manuscript is the inclusion, in the margins surrounding the miniatures, of figures whose actions elaborate or expand upon the subject of the main picture. Thus, scattered around the Nativity are shepherds who have gathered to adore their Savior. Around the Resurrection, angels hold the instruments of the Passion; around the Harrowing, a black demon gesticulates in dismay while angels offer Christ moral support on his victory; around the Evangelists, Old Testament prophets ponder or consult texts on scrolls or in tomes (see frontispiece); and around the funerary blessing, mourners gather with torches.

    While much of the iconographic ingenuity is attributable to the Collins Master, some if it most likely stems from the person who commissioned the manuscript. The book's three suffrage miniatures, depicting Saint Catherine, Mary Magdalene, and the very rare Woman Taken in Adultery (all "fallen women," as Susie Nash observed 2), point to a female patron. Indeed, a single miniature that was sold at the Hôtel Drouot in 1975, and whose style and dimensions make it a likely candidate for one of the four missing miniatures from the Collins Hours, contains a picture of a richly dressed woman at prayer in her private chapel.3 That she was probably Flemish is hinted at by, among other things, the manuscript's calendar, so it is possible that the Collins Master had left Amiens by the 1440s and settled in Flanders, possibly in Bruges. Roger S. Wieck, from Leaves of Gold, Manuscript Illumination from Philadelphia Collections (2001), pp. 78-81.

    1. Millard Meiss, with Kathleen Morand and Edith W. Kirsch, French Painting in the Time of Jean de Berry: The Boucicaut Master, National Gallery of Art, Kress Foundation Studies in the History of European Art, no. 3 (London: Phaidon, 1968), fig. 33.
    2. Susie Nash, Between France and Flanders: Manuscript Illumination in Amiens (London: The British Library; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999), p. 213.
    3. Paris, Hôtel Drouot (Ader, Picard, and Tajan), November 14, 1975, lot 41; reproduced in Nash, Between France and Flanders, fig. 171.