Around Cal

Berkeley Magazine, Fall 1998


Who would buy a book that was never finished? The Bancroft Library jumped at the chance last June at a London auction, and many members of the Berkeley faculty couldn't be happier.

The unfinished volume in question -- a book of hours -- is a private devotional book dating from about 1460 and written in Angers, in western France. It contains a church calendar, prayers and text about the lives of saints. Pocket-sized, it is handwritten predominantly in Latin with a few prayers at the end written in French. The border of each page is decorated with intricate designs in bright colors and gold of flowers, leaves and animals. There are several pages with small illustrations of Biblical scenes called miniatures. Of special interest is an unfinished miniature of the Virgin in which the artist has completed his drawing, but has only begun the coloring.

The illustration and decoration of a book of hours varied, depending on the price the original owner was willing to pay.

The fact that the book was never finished is intriguing to researchers and historians because it gives them a glimpse into the process of making a medieval book of hours.

Said Harvey Stahl, associate professor of art history and chair of the department, "It is so rare to have an entire manuscript in which the stages of production and the work of particular masters can be followed."


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