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The Younger Prayer Book of Charles V
Flemish illumination of the highest perfection
Vienna, Austrian National Library, Cod. Ser. n. 13.251, Flanders, after 1540

CODICES SELECTI, Vol. XCVI

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Further Pictures

 

The Younger Prayer Book of Charles V belongs to the most precious monuments of the late period of Flemish book painting. It was made for the Emperor after 1540 in a workshop in Flanders, where the art of book illumination still flourished in unbroken continuity, long after book printing had triumphed and hand-made books had become increasingly rare.

Gold and Grisaille

The beauty of the prayer book and its artistic decoration are convincing. All decorative elements and miniatures are executed in grisaille where gold highlights and fine shades of dark and bright grey lend the monochrome painting plastic vivacity. The reduced colours and the rich use of gold make this precious devotional book an object of truly noble charme and sumptuous art.
The contents of the prayer book essentially correspond to the structure of a book of hours, which is generally based on the devotion to the Virgin and numerous other pious prayers. The work is introduced by a Calendar. The text is enlivened with red rubrics and prayer titles, often with red majuscules. It contains numerous initials, in total 429, all shaded in grey on a black ground, which is filled with gold sand and framed with golden lines.
Both the renascence script and the illustrations are derived from Italian models and form a rare stylistic harmony. The pictorial decoration comprises three full-size title pages, two astronomic clocks, two vignettes and a total of 73 miniatures, all framed with three-dimensional profiles, and composed to accompany and illustrate the pious prayers.

Picture and text in a harmony of style

The text is written in humanistica formata, a renascence script in clear shape with well proportioned letters, which goes back to a print type antiqua of Italian influence. As the miniatures in the codex also betray Italianate sources, the picture and the text unite in perfect harmony.
The miniatures of the Younger Prayer Book of Charles V appear as framed devotional pictures inlaid in the text. Their scenic and architectural backgrounds provide an impression of three-dimensionality and the beholder’s look falls from the flat text page through the wooden frame into the depth of the picture. The small initials snuggled on the frames remain however on the flat surface.

Elegance and brilliant decoration

The Younger Prayer Book of Charles V was made about two decades after the Older Prayer Book and is radically different in terms of layout and colouring. Many full-length pictures or full and half page miniatures are either reduced to half-length figures or busts or shrunk to a smaller size.
Even the framing of the miniatures is different in the Younger Prayer Book, as miniature and prayer incipit are no longer paired, but the miniatures are composed into narrow frames with golden brown borders to lend the picture a hint of plasticity.

Influenced by Italian masters

The Younger Prayer Book of Charles V constitutes an important milestone in the development of Flemish book painting after 1530, because it documents a strong Italianate influence alongside the inherited Gothic tradition.
With this book of hours we preserve a work of art to document what is probably to many a surprising facet of Flemish book illumination. The reduced exuberance of its decoration and the restrained colouring enhancing the golden highlights lend the work a noble character appropriate to a prayer book for an emperor in his mature age.

The commentary volume

The comprehensive commentary was written by Otto Mazal and comes in a case, together with the facsimile in a red binding. It contains a codicological and palaeographic analysis of the manuscript as well as contributions on the artistic decoration and the texts of the prayer book.

   
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