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Book of Hours

Place made: 
Europe; Flanders; Bruges
Book of Hours, 15th century
Opaque watercolor on vellum, brown leather binding, gold-stamped title on red leather back label, and silver clasp
Overall: 3 3/8 in x 2 3/4 in x 1 1/8 in; 8.6 cm x 7 cm x 2.9 cm
Gift of Mrs. Norah McCarter Warbeke
MH 1964.7.L.PI

The Book of Hours was an essential accoutrement for private devotion in the late Middle Ages. This miniature of King David precedes the Seven Penitential Psalms, recited for the atonement of one’s sins and the sins of the deceased, in order to save the soul from damnation and to reduce time spent in purgatory. The representation of King David serves as both author portrait and as a model for the book owner’s devotional practice.

David, guilty of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah, looks to the heavens for God’s forgiveness. Instead, he is confronted by a golden archangel brandishing a sword, evoking the words of the facing Psalm:
\tOh Lord, rebuke me not in thy indignation, nor chastise me in thy
\twrath. Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak…Turn to me,
\tO Lord, and deliver my soul.
(Psalm 6)

Although penance is the subject of the illumination, its appearance revels in worldly power and beauty, evident in David’s rich garments, his grand castle set within a bucolic and finely detailed landscape, and lush, colorful borders of berries, flowers, and leaves. As in contemporary scenes of David spying on the nude Bathsheba, atonement and pleasure coexist.

-Christine Geisler Andrews

-Christine Geisler Andrews, Visiting Assistant Professor of Art History, Mount Holyoke College
Global Perspectives: Exploring the Art of Devotion (February 9 - May 30, 2010)