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Three Clerics at an Altar, in a Book of Hours

Three Clerics at an Altar, in a Book of Hours

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1260

Shelfmark: Egerton MS 1151

Item number: f.92r

Length: 16

Width: 10.2

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

Early books of hours have types of pictures and decoration which tend not to appear in ones made later on, after the programme of subject matter for pictures and decoration became established. This book of hours includes unusual pictures and texts, such as the Hours of the Holy Spirit and of the Passion, which were exceptional in a prayerbook of the mid-13th century. Some of the texts were recommended in contemporary treatises for the devotions of anchoresses, suggesting that it was made originally for such a religious woman. Its calendar of saints' feasts include many that were associated with the West Midlands. The Hours of the Holy Spirit are short, consisting of only a hymn, an antiphon (a verse sung in response) and a short prayer: This page begins the hour of vespers, the evening hour. Its historiated (bearing a picture) letter shows three clerics at altar looking up at the Holy Spirit descending from an image of Heaven. A gold altar cross is conspicuous in the centre of the picture. Possibly the scene was meant to facilitate one of the contemplative themes of the Hours of the Holy Spirit or to refer to the lay practice of gathering in chapel for vespers, but it differs from the standardised subjects seen in later books of hours.

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