MASTER of the Duke of Bedford
(active 1405-1435 in Paris)

Bedford Book of Hours

Manuscript (Additional Ms. 18850), 260 x 180 mm
British Library, London

John of Lancaster (1389-1435), the third son of King Henry IV of England, was made Duke of Bedford in 1414. When his brother Henry V died in 1422, he acted as regent over large parts of France. He owned three of the most sumptuously illuminated manuscripts of the early 15th century: the Psalter and Book of Hours, made in England by Hermann Scheere, the Book of Hours (now in London), and the Salisbury Breviary (now in Paris).

Work started on the Book of Hours on the occasion of the marriage of Anne of Burgundy in 1423 in Troyes, either commissioned by John, or as a gift from his future brother-on-law, Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. It was then completed over a period of several years.

Most of the decoration with 38 large format miniatures were painted by the Bedford Master and his workshop. Many of the physiognomies of people presented in small or larger format are early masterpieces of portraiture. The Book of Hours presents the reader with brilliant works of Netherlandish realism that anticipate the work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder in the 16th century.

In the main miniature on folio 257v, the Duchess kneels before her patron saint, St Anne. In the background stand the Virgin Mary and the XChrist Child. From top to bottom, the marginal scenes on the left show the three husbands of St Anne: Joachim, Cleophas and Salomas. In the lower register, her two daughters are depicted in conversation with their husbands, Alpheus and Zebedee. The emphasis on the subject of marriage suggests that the manuscript came into being at the time of the marriage of the Duke of Bedford.

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