Van Damme Hours

MS M.451 - Morgan Library & Museum (New York, USA)

Alternate Titles:

Das Van Damme Stundenbuch

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Alternate Titles

Das Van Damme Stundenbuch

Extent / Format

258 pages / 7.4 x 5.6 cm

Artist / School

Antonius van Damme (scribe)
Simon Bening (illuminator)
Ghent-Bruges school


32 full-page miniatures and 12 calendar pictures

Former owners

John Strange
William Comyns
George Spencer Churchill
5th Duke of Marlborough
Librairie Demascène Morgand in Paris
Louise Leboeuf de Montgermont

Short description

The Van-Damme Book of Hours was created in a fantastic collaboration between the writer Antonius van Damme (active from 1495-1545) and the Flemish illuminator Simon Bening (1483-1561). Both knew each other for almost 50 years and together they created a delightful small-format book of hours, which is furnished with 32 realistic full-page miniatures and 32 first-class initial pages. The patron of the precious manuscript is unknown to us today and even Bening, the greatest miniature master of the 16th century, is not named. However, the lively calendar miniatures contain stylistic and iconographic features in their charming details that were typical for him.

Facsimile editions available


Van Damme Hours

During the last golden age of Flemish book painting, a small-format book of hours originated in the workshops of the writer Antonius van Damme (active 1495-1545) and the well-known miniature painter Simon Bening (1483-1561) in Bruges. The 258-page manuscript from 1531 captivates with its 32 realistic full-page miniatures, which are hard to beat in terms of their richness of detail and brilliant coloring. There are also 32 initial pages, whose floral borders form a fascinating contrast to the religious scenes and calendar pages. The scribe’s gotica rotunda is characterized by an incredible degree of uniformity with evenly spaced, almost square letters, which are evident in the book of hours at hand.

Uncomfortable Field Work and Aristocratic Pleasures

The twelve calendar pages with their charming vignettes, whose scenes show both the heavy field work of the farmers, as well as the aristocratic amusements of the rich, are especially appealing. Bening portrays the reality of everyday life in 16th century Flanders with great attention to detail. For the rich, it is mainly activities such as feasting, hunting, and cozy gatherings, while the peasants cultivate the fields and vineyards, collect harvests, and look after the animals. However, what all monthly activities have in common is that they take place against the backdrop of seasonal change.

Modern “Close Ups”

Dramatic "close-ups" are a tasteful way to reduce the distance between the viewer and the characters. Bening deliberately places his actors close to the front edge of the picture and thus creates a more intimate mood. This compositional fineness gives the scenes, e.g. people sitting before a fire on a cold winter’s day, a greater sense of immediacy for the beholder. Housed in a red velvet binding with fine silver filigree covers, this Flemish book of hours is a masterpiece both inside and out.

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