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Initial from the Hours of the Virgin, in a Book of Hours

Initial from the Hours of the Virgin, in a Book of Hours

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1435

Shelfmark: Additional MS 62105

Item number: f.31v

Length: 18.6

Width: 12.5

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Illuminated manuscript

One of the aspirations of a literate lay person in the later Middle Ages was to participate in the daily prayer recited by monks in order to have more direct access to God. One response to this desire was the formation of the book of hours, a private prayerbook, based on the book used by monks, but adapted for the daily use of the laity. The book of hours gave a programme of personal prayer to all levels of literate society, from royalty to affluent townspeople. This book of hours was probably made in London, in a workshop of lay scribes and artists. Its flyleaves were made from a confraternity register of the Augustinian Priory of St Mary Overy (now Southwark Cathedral). This page comes from the section of prayers to the Virgin, called the 'Hours of the Virgin', which was standard in books of hours. Prayer to the Virgin was very popular because she was believed to be the human closest to God and had effective access, as well as being merciful and understanding. The first letter of the prayer is decorated with foliate painted in rich colours with gilding and modelled so that it appears three-dimensional. The fleshy budding vegetation is characteristic of English illumination of the period.

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