(active 1403-1419 in England)

The Beaufort Book of Hours

Manuscript (Royal Ms. 2 A XVIII), 215 x 15 mm
British Library, London

The manuscript was named after Margaret Beauchamp, the wife of John Beaufort, first Duke of Somerset, as the commissioning client and owner of the manuscript. The bulk of the book, folios 25 to 241, is made up of a Book of Hours completed around 1440. Folios 3 to 24, which form the introduction, are older. These belong to the first decade of the 15th century, and their pictures exhibit the courtly and refined International Gothic style of the period. These leaves have been taken out of a psalter, which is now in Rennes. The illustration of this first part comprises 12 full-page miniatures depicting individual saints painted by a Flemish artist and a miniature of the Annunciation painted by Hermann Scheere.

On folio 23v of the codex we can see both the Annunciation and the praying couple who commissioned it, John Beaufort and his wife Margaret Beauchamp. By this delicate means the painter conveyed that the mortal figures belonged only partly to the representation. The frame of the Annunciation itself is a votive chapel of polygonal shape, whereas the praying couple are placed among the vines of the marginal decoration. At the same time the prie-dieu covered with red draperies, on which their prayer-books rest, appear to be organic parts of the building, for they perfectly fit the architectural elements. The outlines of the building are stressed by a golden border, which not only separates and frames the holy sphere, but has the effect of creating the three-dimensional space and the depth of the chapel on the surface of the folio.

The fact that the prie-dieu of the donors, and Duchess Margaret's hands, come across the line can be interpreted in two ways. On the one hand it creates the impression that the two human figures are on the earthly side, "before the vellum", "in front of the curtain", and thus outside the holy sphere; on the other, it unites the heavenly and earthly figures into a single common space. (The painter must have been exceedingly interested in differentiating between what is inside and what is outside. This is also shown by the way the hem of Gabriel's gown indicates the direction from which he arrived - it hangs out of the building and touches Beaufort's prie-dieu.) The patrons who commissioned the miniature are linked with the representation not only physically but also in terms of the composition. The colour of their garments as well as their postures introduce or echo the angel's reverential approach to the Virgin. Their obliquely placed prayer-books complement that of the Virgin, and the colours are harmonious too. The small cloths underneath their prayer-books harmonize with the Virgin's attire and the red drapery of their prie-dieu with the small cloth under the Virgin's prayer-book. (But even here the painter did not forget to differentiate between the heavenly and earthly worlds: the draperies covering the couple's prie-dieu are adorned with a white design, while the draperies on the Virgin's have a gold pattern.) A great many other exquisite echoes in the shapes and lines can be observed in the picture.

The artist's motto can be read on the green drapery covering the Virgin's prie-dieu. The contents, whose letters do not follow the folds of the cloth, are as follows: "Everything is easy if we love. He who loves does not suffer."

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