The little book in the big box

Like most libraries Special Collections uses the height of books to determine the distance between our shelves. Books that are 30 centimeters (approximately 12 inches) tall or more are considered folios and we shelve these together in a separate area. Books that are 10 centimeters (around 4 inches) or less are considered miniatures and they are shelved in their own separate area. Some books need protective boxes or may be packaged with other objects and though the book itself may be smaller than 30 centimeters it can end up being shelved with our folios. It is rare, however, to find a miniature book in the folio section. It is this little book in the big box that I want to spotlight this week.

Libro de horas de los Medicis, Book of Hours (Ms. Fundacion Lazaro Galdiano. 15512) is a full color 1994 facsimile of a codex given by Pope Leo X (the uncle of Lorenzo II) to Lorenzo de’Medici and Madeleine de La Tour d’Auvergne on the occasion of their wedding in 1518. This volume is 2 and 5/8 inches tall by 2 inches wide. It was issued in a blue velvet case that also contains a magnifying glass and a commentary volume. The title is taken from the accompanying commentary by Juana Hidalgo Ogáyar.

A book of hours is a prayer book and it was customary to present this kind of book to newlyweds. The text is written in Latin in red and black ink. There are eleven full page miniatures. Other pages have ornamental borders detailed with cherubs, monsters, cameos and masks. Initial letters are decorated. The board binding is covered in leather and it closes with a silver clasp.

The process of creating a book of hours was a serious undertaking. Once the parchment was ready, the scribe would write the text. The book would then go to the illuminator who detailed the borders and initial letters, and then it would go to the artist who would paint the miniatures. Every book of hours is unique. The coat of arms of Leo X and the family shields of Lorenzo and Madeleine are all present in this volume indicating that Leo X was the commissioning party and Lorenzo and Madeleine were the recipients and first owners of the book.

Special Collections also has facsimiles of other books of hours. These include: The Grandes heures of Jean, Duke of Berry; Le Livre d’heures de la reine Anne de Bretagne; The Hours of Catherine of Cleves; the Hours of Etienne Chevalier; and the Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux, Queen of France, to mention a few. Several of the books are actual folios, and a couple of volumes are quite large, an interesting contrast to the Medicis’ book of hours. We invite you to come see these beautiful devotional texts.

Jim Bricker
Senior Library Technician