Judith in the Book of Hours

01 Jul

A step up in the illuminated text is The Book of Hours of Louis de Laval by Jean Colombe, commissioned by French nobleman, Laval de Chatillon. The Book of Hours of Louis de Laval was the first known illuminated text by Colombe, who went on to produce numerous other texts – the most famous being The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry (Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry).  Those illuminations must have been REALLY rich to deserve that title.

Perhaps you are thinking these must be hoity-toity calendar books for the Rich and Famous of the Middle Ages – in which they write down engagements: “On May 15 – Joust at 12 o’clock, Feast at 5 Post meridiem. On May 16, Beheading at 8 Ante meridiem.”  Fooled you!  A Book of Hours is a devotional book, the most common type of surviving illuminated manuscript from that time.  It was developed for lay people who wanted elements of monastery prayer in their daily devotions (because we all would rather live like monks, doncha know).  and these were ginormously expensive.

Judith praying (1469) Jean Colombe

Judith being seized by the Assyrians (1469) Jean Colombe

Judith with the head of Holofernes (1469) Jean Colombe

Judith returning to Bethulia with the severed head of Holofernes (1469) Jean Colombe

These four pages depict the Story of Judith. First page,  her prayer of contemplation while deciding to enter the camp of Holofernes.  The second, her encounter with the guards at Holofernes camp.  The third, bagging the head of Holofernes with her maid.  And the fourth, her return to Bethulia with the head of Holofernes.

The pages cover the main events in a sanitized version.   No alarm, no horror, no blood.  The basics of the story without the feeling.   Just what you need for a devotional: nothing but the virtuous and righteous actions and none of the compelling emotions.  All set in a castle of the Middle Ages – kind of like the Disney-version with the maid as the fairy godmother.

Jean Colombe, “Book of Hours of Louis d’Orleans.” 1469, illumination on vellum, 225×155 cm, National Library of Russia, St. Petersburg, Russia

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Book of Judith, Chapter 8

1 NOW at that time Judith heard thereof, which was the daughter of Merari, the son of Ox, the son of Joseph, the son of Ozel, the son of Elcia, the son of Ananias, the son of Gedeon, the son of Raphaim, the son of Acitho, the son of Eliu, the son of Eliab, the son of Nathanael, the son of Samael, the son of Salasadal, the son of Israel.
2 And Manasses was her husband, of her tribe and kindred, who died in the barley harvest.
3 For as he stood overseeing them that bound sheaves in the field, the heat came upon his head, and he fell on his bed, and died in the city of Bethulia: and they buried him with his fathers in the field between Dothaim and Balamo.
4 So Judith was a widow in her house three years and four months.
5 And she made her a tent upon the top of her house, and put on sackcloth upon her loins and ware her widow’s apparel.
6 And she fasted all the days of her widowhood, save the eves of the sabbaths, and the sabbaths, and the eves of the new moons, and the new moons and the feasts and solemn days of the house of Israel.
7 She was also of a goodly countenance, and very beautiful to behold: and her husband Manasses had left her gold, and silver, and menservants and maidservants, and cattle, and lands; and she remained upon them.
8 And there was none that gave her an ill word; ar she feared God greatly.

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Posted by on July 1, 2011 in Story


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