The Medieval Review 11.04.03

As-Vijvers, Anne Margreet W. From the Hand of the Master: The Hours of Catherine of Cleves. Antwerp: Ludion, 2009. Pp. 159. . $40 ISBN 978-9055-44823-4.

Reviewed by:

Richard Gay
University of North Carolina, Pembroke

The Hours of Catherine of Cleves is arguably the most important and finest surviving manuscript produced in the Northern Netherlands. Created around 1440 for Catherine of Cleves, duchess of Guelders and countess of Zutphen, the lavish manuscript is remarkable not only for its inventive iconographic program, but also for its astonishing history. In the 19th century, a dealer disbound the manuscript, deceitfully rearranged and rebound the folios into two volumes, then sold those as individual books of hours to unknowing collectors. As fortune would have it, the two volumes are now among the highlights of The Morgan Library and Museum in New York (Ms. M. 917 and Ms. M. 945). With the goal of rebinding the leaves in original order, the manuscripts were recently disbound. This provided the exceptional opportunity to display simultaneously approximately one hundred of the original manuscript's folios in the exhibition Catherine's World: Devotion, Demons and Daily Live in the 15-th Century (Museum Het Valkhof, Nijmegen, October 10, 2009-January 4, 2010 and The Morgan Library and Museum, New York, January 22-May 3, 2010). On the occasion of the exhibition three new publications on the manuscript were produced: a full facsimile produced by Faksimile Verlag Lucern with commentary, an exhibition catalog with a comprehensive scholarly apparatus, and an inexpensive monograph intended for a general audience, which is the subject of this review.

From the Hand of the Master The Hours of Catherine of Cleves serves as a fine introduction to the manuscript and is available in Dutch, German, and English. Through a series of thematic essays by scholars in the field the reader is introduced not only to the decorative program of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves but also to the wealth of religious iconography of the period. In the first essay, Passion, Salvation and Deliverance in The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, Saskia van Bergen addresses four themes found in the decorative program: images of the owner, empathy for Christ's passion, care of the soul, and understanding God's plan for salvation. The thematic organization highlights key issues in fifteenth-century religiosity and contextualizes the manuscript and its function for the reader.

Claudine A. Chavannes-Mazel in The Artistic World of The Master of Catherine of Cleves explores the Cleves Master's indebtedness to the previous generation of artists in Holland and the southern Netherlands. Chavannes-Mazel addresses the artist's well-known use of available models, specifically an Eyckian Adoration of the Three Kings and the Master of Flmalle's Deposition, which survive as drawings, panel paintings, and miniatures. The author nicely demonstrates the mutable nature of imagery across media, and how the overall concepts of the scenes, as well as individual elements, were adapted by artists including the Master of Catherine of Cleves, who is named after the patron of this remarkable manuscript. She closes the essay by addressing the Master's immediate work environment and our lack of information concerning his identity and training, while acknowledging the probable involvement of the Master of Zweder van Culemborg in his training (41). Significantly, she underscores problems of connoisseurship and reconstructing an artist's oeuvre on stylistic criteria, with uncertain dates, lack of scholarly agreement, artists' desires to conform instead of to be original, and the collaborative nature of workshop production. She states, "it is illogical to connect an individual lifestyle or a continually expanding workshop to a fictitious, anonymous person as if he were a real person with a recognizable face" (42). Acknowledging that "originality and individual accomplishments are very difficult to separate and therefore to name" she ends by emphasizing the role and taste of the patron (43). This is but one example of how the authors throughout the publication address academic issues for a broader audience. Intricate ideas and specialist terms are presented in clear language, which is one of the strengths of the publication. Many scholars, however, have built careers identifying anonymous masters and such skills remain highly valued by collectors, museums, and galleries active in the art market where attributions matter.

One of the most inventive and appealing aspects of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves is its border decoration, which is examined by Anne Margreet W. As-Vijvers in Spotlight on the Margin, Border Decoration According to the Master of Catherine of Cleves. The author stresses the functions of the marginal decoration: "structuring the text; representing extra narrative episodes; underscoring theological ideas; stimulating devotion; and offering visual recreation" (60). By examining border imagery, such as beehives, shells, or John the Evangelist boiled in oil, in relationship to textual sources outside the book of hours, the author shows how the polyvalent imagery engaged the contemporary viewer on multiple levels and in multiple ways.

The thematic discussion of the manuscript continues in Children and Domestic Interiors in the Miniatures by the Master of Catherine of Cleves by Kathryn M. Rudy, who also translated the English edition of the publication. By including objects used by and associated with children, such as toys, alphabet books, and devotional cradles, the essay discusses childhood beyond the images in the Cleves manuscript. The author presents miniatures that highlight children at home, at play, reading and writing, in danger, and in bed, which again contextualizes the book of hours for the reader. The Cleve Master was "one of the first painters to emphasize the domesticity of the Holy Family" (65), and he depicted it as "the ultimate hard-working nuclear family" (63), with Mary, Joseph, and Jesus shown as contemporaries in a contemporary setting. The domestic interior serves as a setting that places the family in a familiar environment. Although at times the essay appears more about childhood and children than the miniatures per se, the author rightly presents how vignettes in borders at times have metaphorical associations with their accompanying miniatures.

Overview of the Decorative Programme in the Hours of Catherine of Cleves: Reconstruction, Saskia van Bergen's second contribution to the book, is a useful chart arranged in columns listing full-page and half-page miniatures along with the plate numbers in John Plummer's 1966 facsimile edition that first introduced the manuscript to a wider audience. The layout is clear with seven missing, full-page miniatures helpfully noted. The only noteworthy changes to Plummer's earlier reconstruction of the manuscript are: the full-page Last Judgement (Ms. M. 917, p.28) was moved correctly from introducing the Mass of the Dead to preface instead the Penitential Psalms and Litany; and Plummer, who reconstructed the entire manuscript, not just its decorative program, noted eleven missing leaves, including nine hypothetical missing miniatures. Van Bergen's seven missing miniatures do not include two in the suffrages suggested by Plummer and evidenced by missing text. The reconstruction is fine for a general audience and serves as a handy reference for the lavish iconographic program of miniatures; however, other diagrammatic reconstructions proposed in the past and those in the other publications accompanying the exhibition will be of more interest to experts.

The final section of the book, Thirty-Five Miniatures by Anne Margreet W. As-Vijvers, provides informative short commentaries on a selection of miniatures and includes individual folios and two-page spreads. The commentaries explain iconography and guide the reader to details that might have gone unnoticed. The back cover of the book states that the reproductions in this portion of the book are to scale, but in fact they are slightly smaller. The quality of the illustrations throughout is a vast improvement over earlier publications on the manuscript. However, only approximately 70 miniatures are included, in addition to a few text pages. Throughout the book discursive captions go beyond description and make thumbing through the book enjoyable and informative for the casual reader. For affordable reproductions of all 157 miniatures, Plummer 1966 and its reprints are alternatives, and an outstanding digital facsimile of the miniatures and facing pages is available at the Morgan Library & Museum's website.

As an affordable introduction of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves to a broad audience in accessible language without diluting the content, the book is highly successful. The authors have noted key themes and contextualized the manuscript more broadly than the other publications produced for the exhibition noted above, which focus more narrowly on book culture. Editorial errors, such as misplaced hyphens, are perhaps expected in an international publication such as this, and Americans may find the British spelling distracting. The unique and inventive character of the manuscript's texts and decorative program, although acknowledged by the authors, might have been stressed more through comparison to other books of hours. Experts should appreciate the thematic presentation of the material, however, because of its limited scholarly apparatus and partial treatment of the manuscript they may turn more frequently to the other publications.