(active 1410s)

Book of Hours of Marie of Gueldern

Manuscript (MS Germ. qu. 42), 180 x 134 mm
Staatsbibliothek, Berlin

The sumptuous Book of Hours of Marie of Gueldern contains six full-page miniatures and eighty-six smaller pictures executed by a number of hands. The Hours of the Passion begins with an unusual pair, a curious Annunciation (folio 19v) and a more traditional Arrest of Christ (folio 20r). The smaller miniature of the Arrest with its stocky figures, ruddy faces, and suspended gestures cramped into a shallow space conforms to the style of other Netherlandish illustrations of the early fifteenth century, but the Annunciation is executed with the grace, aristocratic mannerism, and elegance of French miniatures.

The picture shows the Annunciation. This miniature also follows the sophisticated, elegant Parisian models. The duchess is standing in a flower garden surrounded by a wall and is reading a prayer-book, whose corner is held by an angel. Another angel is flying towards her, carryin a scroll inscribed "Ave Maria". God the Father appears in the upper part of the picture, sending towards her the dove of the Holy Ghost. What else is this than an Annunciation? Indeed, the duchess who longed to be blessed with children appears in the guise of the Virgin, whose name she bears. Who knows whether it was her ambitious idea or the illuminator's flattering gesture, to make her adopt a role in one of the holiest events in the life of the Virgin? The ambiguity of the picture is further enhanced by the text on the scroll, which hardly differs from that of the angelic salutation, and by the representation of the two angels, instead of the Archangel Gabriel alone.

The elegant figure of the duchess fills up most of the surface of the miniature; indeed, her long train sweeps out of the garden and covers the marginal decoration. (Her highly fashionable robe shows her to be an actual person and not the Virgin Mary.) The swaying flowers, placed in a regular pattern along the fence of the bower, are in a fine harmony with the live geometry of the marginal decoration, the flowers of similar form, which stand out from the plane, while the colour of the opening in the sky, and God the Father appearing in it, seem to echo the duchess's gown and the lower part of the curve of her train. Only gossamer-fine white lines convey God's figure, depicted in the same colour as the sky. The way in which the dove of the Holy Ghost is created from the same airily delicate lines is particularly fine, and gives an impression of unbelievable lightness.

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