Treasures of the Duke of Aumale
The Cabinet des livres offers a new virtual approach to the Très Riches Heures of the Duke of Berry and places this mythical manuscript at the center of a princely collection of more than fifty handwritten or printed hours. At the end of the Middle Ages, while the best painters renewed the iconography of private devotional books, booksellers offered customizable hours on demand. The hours thus immediately rise to the rank of works of art and collectibles.
Two masterpieces alone symbolise the Duke of Aumale’s exceptional interest in illuminated Books of Hours: the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry and the Heures d’Etienne Chevalier. The Cabinet des Livres is now showing the intensity of the Duke’s quest in this presentation of a significant group of fifty manuscript and printed Books of Hours. From the 13th to the 16th century, these encompass the history and specific inventiveness of this genre.
Détail de la messe de Noël (miniature de Jean Colombe)
Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, vers 1485
A Book of Hours is both a precious object, piously passed down through families over several generations, and the first “best-seller” made to be used intensively. It accompanied a Christian during the day, a sign of the new importance given to prayer and reading alone at the end of the Medieval Period. While artists experimented with very different types of decoration for rich bibliophiles, printers offered illustrated books of hours to suit contemporary taste that could be personalized for a broader public.
With their great diversity placing them between a book and a work of art, Books of Hours became collectors’ objects during the 19th century. Sensitive to the intimate charm of these elegant little volumes, their delicate miniatures and the piety that they reflect, the Duke of Aumale acquired scholarly expertise in this field to enrich the Musée Condé. His collection documents a multiform phenomenon and provides a broad range of styles that are to be found in the universe of Books of Hours.
Marie-Pierre Dion, General Curator of the Condé Museum Library