MASTER of the Duke of Bedford
(active 1405-1435 in Paris)
Bedford Book of Hours1423-30
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 its central section, the main miniature on folio 96r shows Bathsheba and Uriah, the latter being the companion of David, who is looking through the window with his harp. The picture is bordered by various themes relating to virtue and vice. In the medallion at the bottom left, for example, we can see the conversion of Saul.