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The Passion in illuminations

by
02 April 2007

by a staff reporter

Above, Folio 138: The Last Supper, which illustrates the Thursday Hours of the Sacrament.  The scene conflates the different Gospel narratives. The Duke and Duchess of Bedford’s mottoes appear in the border

THESE illuminated scenes from the Passion of our Lord — which conclude here with an image of the Seat of Mercy as representing the Trinity — are from a new fine-art facsimile of one of the greatest surviving medieval illuminated manuscripts, the Bedford Hours

It has been published to coincide with “The Bedford Hours: Owners and Illuminators”, an exhibition at the British Library, (in the Sir John Ritblat Gallery) Euston Road, London NW1, until 2 July. Admission is free (phone 020 7412 7112). The original is on display with other volumes from the workshop of the illuminator known only as the Bedford Master. They include the Sobieski Hours, lent by the Queen for the exhibition.

The Bedford Hours, which the Library regards as one of its greatest treasures, was owned by the Duke of Bedford and his wife, Anne of Burgundy. It had been thought to commemorate the Duke’s marriage to her in 1423, as their portraits appear in it. But the illumination of the manuscript, which contains more than 1000 images, was probably begun earlier, c.1410-15.

The Bedford Hours is noted for its large miniatures and decorative borders. Pairs of medallions decorate each text page, and form a continuous biblical narrative of about 1250 scenes. The binding by a former owner, Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford (1694-1741), in red velvet, and secured with two gilded clasps engraved with his arms and mottoes, has been reproduced in the limited-edition facsimile, commissioned by the British Library from Faksimile Verlag Luzern of Switzerland and priced at £6995.

It is is accompanied by a commentary volume by Professor Eberhard König, who has also written a more affordable book, The Bedford Hours: The making of a medieval masterpiece (British Library, £20; 978-0-7123-4978-9).

www.bl.uk

www.bl.uk

Above: Folio 208: Christ in prayer on the Mount of Olives, while Judas, an old man, leads the soldiers to the Garden of Gethsemane, illustrates the Office of the Passion (Matins). As the disciples sleep, Christ kneels before a golden chalice, looking up at his own Passion in the sky, where God the Father holds the Cross, but there is no Holy Dove. The roundels are: Christ tries to wake his disciples; he reveals himself to the soldiers; he restores the ear of Malchus; St John's cloak is torn from his shoulders during flight; Christ is brought before Annas

Above: Folio 208: Christ in prayer on the Mount of Olives, while Judas, an old man, leads the soldiers to the Garden of Gethsemane, illustrates the Office of the Passion (Matins). As the disciples sleep, Christ kneels before a golden chalice, looking up at his own Passion in the sky, where God the Father holds the Cross, but there is no Holy Dove. The roundels are: Christ tries to wake his disciples; he reveals himself to the soldiers; he restores the ear of Malchus; St John's cloak is torn from his shoulders during flight; Christ is brought before Annas

Above: Folio 235: the Carrying of the Cross (Office of the Passion, Sext). Christ cannot drag his cross on the ground; the Virgin and St John touch it reverently, like a holy relic. The margins include Pilate’s wife visited by the Devil; the discussion whether to release Barabbas or Christ; Pilate’s judgment; and Pilate washing his hands.

Above: Folio 235: the Carrying of the Cross (Office of the Passion, Sext). Christ cannot drag his cross on the ground; the Virgin and St John touch it reverently, like a holy relic. The margins include Pilate’s wife visited by the Devil; the discussion whether to release Barabbas or Christ; Pilate’s judgment; and Pilate washing his hands.

Above: Folio 144: the Crucifixion, from the Friday Hours of the Holy Cross, an image familiar from the Canon pictures in missals, such as one by the young Bedford Master in the Missal of Saint-Magloire. The roundels show other Passion scenes. Lamenting angels appear among the plants and flowers

Above: Folio 144: the Crucifixion, from the Friday Hours of the Holy Cross, an image familiar from the Canon pictures in missals, such as one by the young Bedford Master in the Missal of Saint-Magloire. The roundels show other Passion scenes. Lamenting angels appear among the plants and flowers

Above: Folio 249: Entombment in the Holy Sepulchre, from the Office of the Passion (Compline), in a vaulted room like a church. The border pictures inlcude the anointing of the Body, the guards, and the grieving apostles

 

Above: Folio 249: Entombment in the Holy Sepulchre, from the Office of the Passion (Compline), in a vaulted room like a church. The border pictures inlcude the anointing of the Body, the guards, and the grieving apostles

 

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