MASTER of the Dresden Prayer Book
(active 1465-1515 in Bruges)
Flemish illuminator and engraver, active in Bruges. He was named after the Book of Hours in Dresden (Dresden, Sächsische Landesbibliothek, MS. A311; two detached miniatures, Paris, Louvre, inv. no. 20694, 20694bis). The book was slightly damaged by water in 1945. Its format and composition are typical of Books of Hours produced in Bruges, but it differs in the illustration of the calendar, with 12 full-page miniatures of the occupations of the months. These miniatures show the Master of the Dresden Prayer Book to have been one of the first illuminators to capture differing moods and atmosphere in landscapes, for example a fresh May morning or a gathering storm on a hot day in July.
The anonymous illuminator known as the Master of the Dresden Prayer Book was a painter of tremendous originality. At a time when artists favoured elaborate costumes and contrived postures, this illuminator gave his figures a sweeter, more innocent quality. He had an uncanny ability to locate the humour or irony in a familiar story, and he showed particular sympathy for coarse or simple characters. The novelty of his colours - including bright oranges, teals, burgundies, rich blues, and sometimes black - often arranged in surprising combinations, further attests to the refreshing originality of his art.
His finest achievements in landscape painting are the calendar miniatures of the Voustre Demeure Hours (Madrid, Bib. N., MS. Vit. 25-5), where the Signs of the Zodiac are represented as heavenly apparitions in landscapes that reflect the changing seasons. In view of this expertise, it is not surprising that, on several occasions, the Master of the Dresden Prayer Book undertook, as a specialist, the calendar sections of Books of Hours illustrated by other illuminators (e.g. London, British Library, Add. MS. 38126 and Egerton MS. 1147). At the same time his own workshop, with c. 40 known manuscripts, was one of the most productive in the Netherlands.