3. Leaf from a French Book of Hours

Leaf from a French Book of Hours

Medieval mourners bring out their dead in this illuminated page (or leaf) from a 15th-century French book of hours. The page provides an ominous opening for the Office of the Dead, one of the prayer cycles typically contained within a book of hours. The books were the most popular religious tomes of medieval Europe and contained prayers, psalms and readings for Christian devotion. They were often illuminated, and the more expensive volumes were lavishly embellished and personalized for their owners. This page dates to around 1440 and is probably from eastern France.

Surrounded by an intricately interwoven border of burnished-gold ivy leaves and colorful flowers, the page depicts a funeral mass, with priests, singers in choir stalls and black-clad mourners bearing candles. In the corner, a bearded grotesque figure rides backward on a beast and raises a club, perhaps preparing to rain down eternal punishment.

Special Collections/University Archives owns leaves from books of hours from the 13th through the 16th centuries, which are frequently studied by English and art history students as well as others.