Virgin and Child, in a Book of Hours
Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum
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. Prayers honouring the Virgin Mary (Hours of the Virgin) were usually included in Books of Hours. Prayer to her was considered especially helpful to people in their daily lives because of her position as the human mother of Christ who could effectively petition in heaven on their behalf. Devotions to her flourished throughout the Middle Ages, and often they have a personal dimension.
The first letter of the Hours of the Virgin (d of 'domine', 'Lord') is 'historiated': it carries a picture within it. It shows the Virgin and Child enthroned upon an altar and flanked by candles and angels swinging censers, as though the scene is within a heavenly church. The Virgin holds an apple, perhaps in reference to her role as 'the new Eve,' the woman who negates the Fall. Within an arch below, a kneeling woman in grey holds a prayerbook. She is probably meant to be the original owner and demonstrates the function of the Book of Hours as an aid for personal devotion. The book also provided what seems to be entertainment in its margins: a bespectacled monkey, rabbit musician, and other bizarre comics.