Black Prayer Book of Galeazzo Maria Sforza

Codex Vindobonensis 1856 - Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Vienna, Austria)

Alternate Titles:

Black Prayerbook, Das Schwarze Gebetbuch, Schwarzes Gebetbuch, Gebetbuch des Galeazzo Maria Sforza

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Codiology

Alternate Titles

Black Prayerbook
Das Schwarze Gebetbuch
Schwarzes Gebetbuch
Gebetbuch des Galeazzo Maria Sforza

Type
Extent / Format

308 pages / 25.2 x 17.8 cm

Origin
Date
1466-1476
Style
Genre
Language
Patron

Charles The Bold, Duke of Burgundy (1433 - 1477)

Artist / School

Maybe Phillippe de Mazerolles (c. 1420 - after 1479)

Illustrations

15 full-page, 24 smaller miniatures and 71 border vignettes

Former owners

Galeazzo Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan (reigned 1455-1476)
Galeazzo's daugther Bianca Maria Sforza and her husband Emperor Maximilian I. (reigned 1486-1519)

Short description

The famous Codex 1856 of the Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, the so-called Vienna Black Prayer Book, belongs to a small group of exceptional manuscripts from the 15th century: the black hours. These are so-named after their parchment pages dyed dark black, on which the luminous paintings particularly come into their own. Of these grandiose testimonials to illumination, only seven specimens survive today. The wonderful Black Hours from Vienna originated in Bruges at the behest of Charles the Bold, the last Duke of Burgundy. It came by unknown paths into the possession of the Duke of Milan, Galeazzo Maria Sforza.

Facsimile editions available

Description

Black Prayer Book of Galeazzo Maria Sforza

The famous Codex 1856 of the Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, the so-called Vienna Black Prayer Book, belongs to a small group of exceptional manuscripts from the 15th century: the black hours. These are so-named after their parchment pages dyed dark black, on which the luminous paintings particularly come into their own. Of these grandiose testimonials to illumination, only seven specimens survive today. The wonderful Black Hours from Vienna originated in Bruges at the behest of Charles the Bold, the last Duke of Burgundy. It came by unknown paths into the possession of the Duke of Milan, Galeazzo Maria Sforza. The precious book of hours returned to the northern realms and came into the possession of the Hapsburgs through the marriage of his daughter with Emperor Maximilian I and is **counted today among the greatest treasures of the Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek.

A Fragile Rarity

The fragility of the parchment pages makes the Vienna Black Prayer Book something very special. The pages were dyed dark black with a chemical solution, which has heavily corroded the pages over the centuries, for the purpose of allowing the colors of the illumination to glow against this dark background. Consequently, the book of hours – one of only seven surviving of its kind! – is handled with special care with the pages stored between glass plates and in a vacuum. This manuscript visualizes the wonder which the 15th century miniaturists were in a position to bring about with just paint and brush. The paintings of the Vienna Black Prayer Book, a glorious cosmos of gold, silver, and bright colors, leaves behind an unforgettable impression incomparable with a manuscript of undyed parchment!

Impressive Pictorial Decoration

Embellishing marginal ornaments, impressively designed miniatures, splendid initials, wonderful calendar pages, and additional medallions in the splendid frames: the pictorial decoration of the Vienna Black Prayer Book impresses with its abundance of high-quality painting. The luminous pictures and text written in gold and silver come impressively into their own against the dark background of the colored pages, which lend the manuscript its name. This reverse contrast to the typical dark text and imagery against a light background accounts for the special allure of this payer book. On its 206 pages, the manuscript assembles 15 full-page miniatures, 24 smaller ones, and 71 medallions in the margins. These illustrate the prayers according to the Roman liturgy with a special focus on Marian content. The miniatures originate from an unknown artist who is referred to in the field of research with the Notname Master of the Antonius from Burgundy.

The 15th Century Burgundian Book Treasure

The Vienna Black Prayer Book is also known as the Hours of Charles the Bold, the last Duke of Burgundy. It was presumably he who commissioned the book of hours, or he received it as a gift. The Vienna Black Prayer Book, originating in Bruges in the years 1450-1474, fits into a group of splendid manuscripts of the same type. These black manuscripts were particularly well-loved in the Duchy of Burgundy in the second half of the 15th century. Aside from the manuscript presented here, there is also the Black Hours of New York’s Morgan Library, originating likewise ca. 1475 in Bruges for a member of the Burgundian court around Charles the Bold, or the Hours of Mary of Burgundy, also from the Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, although the Hours of Charles the Bold is the most splendid and beautiful among them.

The Duke of Milan and the Holy Roman Emperor

An additional significant name is closely associated with the Codex 1856 of the Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek: Galeazzo Maria Sforza (1444-1476). The Duke of Milan was a great lover and patron of the arts. The Black Hours reached him by mysterious paths in the year 1493. One year later in 1494, the marriage of Galeazzo’s daughter Bianca Maria with Emperor Maximilian I took place. Bianca Maria was Maximilian’s second wife after the death of Mary of Burgundy. The Black Prayer Book was given to her as a dowry. The splendid manuscript came into the possession of the Hapsburgs in this way and has been accounted for in their collection since 1795. Today, the Black Prayer Book counts among the highlights of the Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek!

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