Leaves of Gold: Treasures of Manuscript Illumination fron Philadelphia Collections
Exhibition GalleryLearning CenterAbout the Project

The Gallery
BIBLES: Introduction | Gallery Guide
BOOKS OF HOURS: Introduction | Gallery Guide
PSALTERS: Introduction | Gallery Guide
LITURGICAL: Introduction | Gallery Guide
LITERARY: Introduction | Gallery Guide

Full exhibition checklist (text only)


An Introduction to Books of Hours

Cowled canine, possibly mocking the itinerant preachers of the day. Library Company of Philadelphia, MS 5, f. 39v

The Book of Hours—the main prayer book used in medieval Europe—was divided into eight sections (or "hours") that were meant to be read at specific times of day. Each section contained prayers, psalms, hymns, and other readings intended to help the reader secure salvation for himself and his departed loved ones.

The contents of Books of Hours varied according to the owner's needs, interests, taste, and economic status, but some elements were common. The heart of every Book of Hours was a set of prayers called the Hours of the Virgin, which sought the Virgin's assistance and intercession. Other components included a calendar, Gospel lessons, and penitential psalms.

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, every member of the middle and upper classes would have wanted to own an illuminated Book of Hours. These treasured books were given as gifts on special occasions, such as weddings, and they often appeared in medieval wills, testifying to their value and importance. A Book of Hours was often the first and only book an individual owned in his or her lifetime. In the most luxurious books, made for the wealthiest patrons, each section was prefaced by a miniature and the texts were surrounded by borders. More inexpensive versions contained fewer miniatures and borders.

gallery guide (many images) |view first manuscript



Leaves of Gold is a collaborative exhibition organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries. All materials on this site are copyright 2001 the Philadelphia Museum of Art except as indicated herein.