Friday, December 09, 2022

The Book of Hours of Étienne Alleaume

We are now in the midst of a period with various feasts of the Virgin Mary: the Immaculate Conception yesterday, Our Lady of Loreto tomorrow, and Guadalupe on Monday, plus the ongoing celebration of Rorate Masses, her Votive Mass in Advent, and the Ember days next week, which commemorate the Annunciation on Wednesday and the Visitation on Friday. So here is a look at a manuscript with many very beautiful images of the most important events of Her life, which I happened to stumble across the other day, the Book of Hours of Étienne Alleaume. Apart from the date of its production, ca. 1500-30, and the name of the original owner, the website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France gives almost no information about it, or its original owner, nor was I able to dig any up on the internet. The style is clearly very heavily influenced by the art of the Italian Renaissance, but with a strong preference for highly detailed decorative backgrounds which is more typical of the 14th and 15th century International Gothic. The liturgical texts included (the Little Office of the Virgin, the Office of the Dead, the Gradual and Penitential Psalms, the Litany of the Saints etc.) are all standard. Like many people of that era, Étienne Alleaume, lord of the town of Verneuil-sur-Seine, was doing the trendy thing in liturgy at the time, and saying these not according to the local Use, but the Roman.

I ordinarily present all the images from a manuscript in order, but we should start with an image of the Virgin Herself, so I’ve moved this one up. This page introduces a Little Office of the Immaculate Conception with images and titles derived from various parts of the Bible, but especially the Song of Songs (“chosen like the sun”), and the liturgy (“star of the sea” etc.) This Little Office is quite different from the standard one, in that each Hour consists solely of a brief hymn, a versicle and a prayer. Within the manuscript, this Office is placed after the Hours of the Holy Spirit, a similarly brief devotional Office.

Each page of the calendar has above it an image with the sign of the zodiac that begins within the corresponding month, and representations of the ages of the life of man, from youth to old age.
A decorative band with the words “Satiabor cum apparuerit gloria tua. – I shall be sated when Thy glory shall appear,” the last words of Psalm 16. Several others appear in various places within the book to fill spaces between the end of a text and the bottom of a page.

Many books of Hours included a group of four Gospels, one from each of the Evangelists: John 1, 1-14, the Gospel of Christmas day; Luke 1, 26-38, the Annunciation; Matthew 2, 1-12, the Epiphany; and Mark 16, 14-20, the Ascension. This image introduces the Gospel from St John, but there are no concomitant images of the other Evangelists with their Gospels.

They are followed by the full Passion of St John. 
The coat of arms of Étienne Alleaume, with the motto in French “Non cy (a medieval spelling of ‘ici’), mais la”, and below in Latin, “Ibi requies.” Taken together, they mean, “There (i.e. in heaven) there will be rest, not here, but there.”
Each Hour of the Office of Our Lady is introduced by an image of an event of Her life; the choice of these is not absolutely uniform from one book of Hours to another, but the pattern is pretty standard. Matins begins with the Annunciation... 
Lauds with the Visitation.
Before Prime, the Nativity.
A sample page of the writing, each verse of the Psalms begins with a fairly simple decorative letter.
Before Terce, the appearance of the Angels to the Shepherds.
Before Sext, the Adoration of the Magi.
Before None, the Presentation of the Child in the Temple.
Before Vespers, the Flight into Egypt.
Before Compline, the Coronation of the Virgin as the Queen of Heaven.
There follow three much briefer Offices of the type described above, first of the Cross...
second of the Holy Spirit, and then of the Immaculate Conception (which I have moved to the top.)
Before the Penitential Psalms, an image of sacrifice being offered in the temple of the Old Law, with the motto “Notitia peccati initium salutis. - Knowledge of sin is the beginning of salvation.”

The beginning of Vespers of the Dead, with a fairly standard choice of subject matter in the introductory image, Job and his three would-be consolers.

A much less common subject to introduced Matins of the Dead, the labors of Adam and Eve after the Fall.

The introduction to a long devotional prayer to Christ, attributed to St Bernard of Clairvaux.
The Stabat Mater
St Stephen presents his namesake Étienne Alleaume and son to the Virgin Mary. This introduces the section of suffrages, i.e., votive commemorations of a large number of Saints, which in many Books of Hours, each have their own separate image of the relevant Saints, but here, are introduced with their names written in French in colored banderoles, as seen below.

The one exception is St John the Baptist, seen here preaching to the crowds with Madame Alleaume in attendance.

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