BIRAGO, Giovanni Pietro
(active 1471-1513 in Milan)

Sforza Hours

c. 1490, 1517-21
Manuscript (Add. Mss. 34294, 45722, 62997), 131 x 93 mm
British Library, London

The Sforza Hours was commissioned around 1490 by Bona Sforza, the widow of Duke Galeazzo Maria Sforza of Milan. It is a Book of Hours according to the use of Rome, containing prayers and devotional texts for the private use and edification of the laity. The miniatures contributed by Giovanni Pietro Birago and belonging the oldest and most comprehensive portion of the manuscript bear testimony to the most up-to-date Renaissance ideas.

After the death of Bona Sforza, the codex entered the possession of the Habsburg princess Margaret of Austria, regent of the Spanish Netherlands. She asked her court miniaturist Gerard Horenbout to illuminate the unfinished part of the prayer book that had remained blank. This might have happened between 1517 and 1521. Horenbout miniatures greatly differed in style from those of his Italian predecessor.

The miniature on folio 7r was painted by Birago. The Evangelist Matthew is placed in a scene of Renaissance architecture. The lectern where he is working bears his initials "S. M." (Sanctus Matthaeus). In the foreground an angel - Matthew's attribute- holds a book from which the mighty figure of the saint reads.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.