Les heures de Turin-Milan



B. Davis Schwartz

Memorial Library
July, 2004

Les heures de Turin Milan. Luzern: Faksimile Verlag (Fine Art Facsimile Publishers of Switzerland); Turin (Itlay): Museo Civico d’Arte Antica, 1994. "This Fine Arts Facsimile Edition is a faithful re-creation of the original illuminated manuscript, Inv. no. 47 … at the Museo Civico d’Arte Antica in Turin". Limited to 980 numbered copies. This is no. 163. "This volume was stiched by hand, covered with green velour and decorated with gold and blind embossing." Latin text. Issued in an acrylic case.

This "Turin-Milan Hours" is one of the greatest documents in the cultural history of the Western world. Few manuscripts have caused as much speculation and adulation as this - one of the most sophisticated illuminated manuscripts of all time.

The Turin-Milan Hours took seventy years to complete, from 1380 to 1450. It was probably Jean, Duke of Berry, who commissioned, in 1380, an illuminated manuscript of ambitious proportions, one that would combine a book of hours, a missal, and a prayer book. The book of hours is now known as the "Tres belles heures de Notre-Dame". The missal contained all the text necessary for a layman to follow daily mass and other church functions throughout the year. The third book contained those prayers which were particular favorites of the French royal family.

The first series of illustrations, begun around 1380, was painted by the great Master of the Parament of Narbonne. He decided on the order of the pages, made preliminary sketches, and completed several of the most important miniatures. In 1405, the Duke of Berry commissioned a group of painters to finish the book. They were under the supervision of another anonymous artist, the Master of the Baptist. The work was interrupted again around 1412 when the Duke, losing interest in his grandiose project, presented the first part of the manuscript, which contained a complete book of hours, to his treasurer, Robinet d’Estampes. After the Duke of Berry's death in 1416, the remaining two sections of the manuscript, the missal and the prayer book, passed to John of Bavaria, Count of Holland.

John commissioned the young and highly gifted Jan van Eyck to complete the work. A series of miniatures were executed about 1424, but later, after John's death, the artist took the missal and prayer book with him when he went to serve Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. Jan and a team of Flemish illuminators resumed work on the manuscript. With Jan van Eyck's death in 1441, Philip the Good commissioned a second series of Flemish illustrations, which finally completed the work. The artist selected followed on in the tradition of van Eyck, clearly using the latter's sketches and compositions. After Philip, the manuscript ended up in the collection of the House of Savoy. In 1720, the prayer book was donated to the National Library of Turin, but became a victim of the fire in 1904. The missal, now known as the Turin-Milan Hours, went to the library of the Earl of Agile in the late 17th century. It was acquired in the early 19th century in Milan by Prince Gian Giacomo Trivulzio. In 1935 the manuscript was presented by the Trivulzio family to the Museo Civico in Turin.

It is virtually impossible to find another single work that documents the transition from medieval to modern times as clearly as the Turin-Milan Hours. For the long period of time that elapsed before it was completed saw the development of a new approach to painting. Van Eyck stood, like the Italian early Renaissance painters, for a change in perception and a revolutionary method of reproducing reality.

The Turin-Milan Hours contains both the earliest and the latest surviving work of a genius who took painting into new avenues. The first examples of van Eyck's oeuvre reveal the young painter's astonishing ability to use light to imbue everyday scenes with infinitely higher significance.

The new element in Jan van Eyck’s work is that it is based on an exact observation of reality. He fascinates us with the microscopic quality of his vision, with his precise rendering of details in landscapes and interiors. Light and shadow are used to create three-dimensionality. Like no one before him, van Eyck was able to give his subjects, both physical objects and people, a wonderful plasticity and to instill an unprecedented significance into everyday scenes. He eschewed all forms of idealization, preferring to crate individual characters with uniquely personal physical features.

Although the miniatures which Jan van Eyck himself painted for the manuscript are characterized by a particular harmonious interplay of light and color, all the others that were executed under his influence document to differing degrees the development of an entirely new form of artistic perception.

Conrad Schoeffling
Special Collections Librarian

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