Detail from Mary Magdalene with a Book and Ointment Jar (workshop of the Master of the First Prayer Book of Maximilian), from the Spinola Hours, about 1510-20, Bruges and Ghent. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. Ludwig IX 18 (83.ML.114), fol. 264v
The written word was an art form in the medieval world. Artisans including calligraphers, scribes, and illuminators worked together to fill the pages of manuscripts with scrolling vines and delicate pen flourishes, often surrounding captivating narratives set within large letterforms. These decorative embellishments reveal the monetary, cultural, and spiritual value placed on handmade books at the time. With miniatures displaying astounding plays of spatial illusionism, the luxurious personal prayer book known as the Spinola Hours is one of the most visually sophisticated Flemish manuscripts of the sixteenth century. A book of hours contains a calendar of Church holidays, the Hours of the Virgin, which is a cycle of prayer services devoted to the Virgin Mary, the Office for the Dead, and other prayers, hymns, and readings. This particular book augments these contents with a special series of weekday offices and masses, providing even more possibilities for rich illuminations. The Master of James IV of Scotland, while the primary illuminator, collaborated with several artists to produce the eighty-eight large illuminations in the manuscript, including this rendering of Mary Magdalene framed by flowers, a dragonfly and a butterfly.
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