French 15th-century Book of Hours


A French Book of Hours, produced in Paris in the early 15th century.

Books of hours were the most popular books for laypeople in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. They contained sets of prayers to be performed throughout the hours of the day and night. These books were often designed to be visually appealing, and wealthy patrons commissioned leading artists to work on them. The manuscript also contained illustrations of hell which acted as reminders that behaviour on Earth would determine the destination of their soul. Scenes within this manuscript show people being captured, tortured and eaten by monsters and demons.

The miniatures in this exquisite Book of Hours are the work of a Bolognese artist active in Paris during the first decade of the 15th century, known as the Master of the Brussels Initials after his work in the Très Belles Heures of Jean, duc de Berry (Brussels, Bibliothèque royale, MS 11060–61). The Master of the Brussels Initials introduced elements of Italian illumination to Paris, such as the luxurious acanthus-leaf borders, lively marginal figures, and fanciful architectural settings that feature abundantly in this manuscript. The decoration is extraordinarily rich, with gold borders and marginal creatures on every page. Although the original owner is unknown, it has been suggested that the manuscript may have been made for Louis (1397–1415), duke of Guyenne and dauphin of France.

Full title:
Book of Hours
1400–1410 , Paris
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Add MS 29433

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Death and the afterlife

Article by:
Alixe Bovey

Images of the afterlife dominate illuminated manuscripts, paintings, sculptures and literature in the Middle Ages. Dr Alixe Bovey examines how ideas of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory impacted on everday life.

Manuscripts of the Christian Bible

Article by:
Scot McKendrick
Christianity, Sacred texts

Dr Scot McKendrick looks at manuscripts of the Bible prior to the invention of printing, exploring their contents and uses and answering the question of why there are so few manuscripts of the whole Bible.

Medieval prayer-books

Article by:
Eleanor Jackson
Christianity, Devotional texts

Books of Hours were a popular feature of medieval Christianity in Europe. Dr Eleanor Jackson introduces their common features, uses and purposes, explaining features such as the Instruments of Christ’s Passion and the medieval veneration of saints.

Related collection items