The Sobieski Hours
A Most Beautiful Manuscript from the British Royal Collection
The Sobieski Hours: Stunning images, resplendent in dazzling colours! Remarkable pictorial compositions attributed to the Bedford Master! Amazing book illumination which leaves the viewer virtually speechless! A feast for the eyes! A delight to behold! Indulge yourself in the gold and the colours, and discover a myriad of details in the vibrant images reflecting an amazing diversity of life in the Late Middle Ages!
“Unlike any other book of hours, the multifaceted imagery of the Sobieski Hours offers the viewer a fascinating insight into the world as it was perceived in the illuminated Middle Ages. It is among the most beautiful books of hours!” (Karl‑Georg Pfändtner, Staats- und Stadtbibliothek Augsburg)
The Sobieski Hours: The Manuscript
Three Congenial Illuminators
The Sobieski Hours is a highlight of Late Gothic Parisian book illumination. Since it was difficult for a single book illuminator to create such a monumental work without the support of others, some of the most talented artists participated in completing the manuscript around 1430. Where the renowned Bedford Master could not execute the numerous miniatures himself, he at least prepared the under-drawing and gave his assistants detailed instructions. As the participation of other workshops was not uncommon, two other illuminators shared the responsibility for this voluminous manuscript, the Fastolf Master and the Master of the Munich Golden Legend.
Towards the end of the 15th century the Sobieski Hours was owned by the bibliophile bishop of Raab and Erlau. In the 17th century the manuscript belonged to Jan III Sobieski, King of Poland, where it was bound in red velvet with gold ornaments. The king’s granddaughter, Maria Clementina Sobieska, was married to James Francis Stuart, the Old Pretender, in 1719. Before his death in 1807, their younger son, Henry Benedict Stuart, Cardinal York, bequeathed the manuscript to George, the Prince Regent. His brother and successor, King William IV, later established the Royal Library at Windsor Castle.
The question is: for whom the Sobieski Hours was initially destined? A clue may come from a poem about the life of Saint Margaret, the only French text inserted into the manuscript. This saint seems to have been of special importance for the recipient of the manuscript. The miniature on fol. 162v shows a lady clad in a precious garment and a Burgundian headdress praying to Saint Margaret. The bed behind her can be seen hung with green draperies, the traditional colour reserved for ladies of the French royal house in birth chambers. – Does this point to Marguerite of Brittany, the grand-daughter of King Charles VI of France? The commentary accompanying the facsimile casts some light on this matter.
Under the Magnifying Glass: Pictorial Compositions for Rich Narratives
Created for elaborate narratives, the Bedford Master’s pictorial compositions are a delight to look at. Brilliantly structured, myriads of scenes and details in the miniatures become a harmonious whole. For this purpose, the artist has used two methods to arrange the pictures. On the one hand, a ‘survey picture’ which connects all the scenes by placing them in a uniform pictorial space rendered in perspective: either a common landscape or an imaginary architectural setting with interior spaces and galleries. On the other hand, he designed ‘compartment pictures’, which consist of consecutive scenes illustrating a particular narrative, with the scenes spread over six or nine separate miniatures, each clearly defined by a gold frame.
In the miniature of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary (fol. 24r) designed as a ‘survey picture’, the Bedford Master makes full use of his outstanding talent as a painter and narrator. He does not confine himself to illustrating a single biblical scene but skillfully recounts a complete narrative in eight pictorial scenes set in a magnificent imaginary architectural structure. Starting at the upper right, the scenes from the Life of the Virgin unfold in clockwise order. The episodes depicted are: The Rejection of Joachim’s Offering – The Withdrawal to the Wilderness – Joachim and Anna Meet at the Golden Gate of the Temple – The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple – Mary Weaves the Veil of the Temple – She Marries Joseph. The final scene and highlight is the Annunciation to the Virgin in the centre of the miniature.
The Sobieski Hours
The Sobieski Hours: The Edition
The Manuscript and the Facsimile at a Glance
The magnificent Sobieski Hours is considered an artistic highlight of Gothic book illumination from the 15th century. Today, it is among the cimelia carefully guarded in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle. The facsimile edition by Quaternio Editions Lucerne makes this exclusive treasure accessible to you for the first time.
Manuscript: Windsor Castle, The Royal Library
Date of Origin: c. 1430
Place of Orgin: Paris
Dimensions: ca. 27.5 x 18.5 cm
Extent: 468 pages (234 leaves)
Artists: Bedford Master, Fastolf Master, Master of the Munich Golden Legend
Patron: probably Jeanne de France, the daughter of King Charles VI of France, for her daughter Marguerite of Brittany
Illumination: 60 pages of miniatures with more than 400 individual scenes, 24 calendar pages with 120 figures of saints or scenes, text pages with golden vine sprays, gold leaf and shell gold, silver, tooling
Binding: red velvet with gold ornaments
Commentary Volume for the Facsimile Edition by Jenny Stratford and Jane Roberts, preface by HRH The Prince of Wales
Print run: 680 copies
Enjoy Viewing 10 Sample Pages:
A Glance at the Facsimile
The section from the Sobieski Hours reproduced here shows fols. 64r–68v. The sequence contains two full-page miniatures skilfully composed as ‘survey pictures’, the Massacre of the Innocents (fol. 64v), and Christ among the Doctors (fol. 68r).
The ornamentation of the remaining pages matches the splendour of the miniatures. The borders of all the text pages are decorated with a patterning of foliate branches, with vine and ivy creepers adorned with thousands of tiny gold leaves. They are skillfully accentuated by touches of colour in bright blue and minium, various harmonious greens, as well as a warm brown and hues of grey.
A Challenging Production: fac simile
Careful Assessment on Site
Before the decision to produce the facsimile was made, experts from Quaternio Editions Lucerne travelled to the Royal Library at Windsor Castle. There they met with the Royal Librarian and the Senior Curator of Books and Manuscripts of the Royal Collection Trust to make a careful examination of the Sobieski Hours. The challenging process of making the facsimile starts with the specialists in digitalization who take photos of the precious manuscript in the library. After photographing the original page by page, the lithographer prepares the digital data for printing. The printing proofs of each page are then compared with the original in the Royal Library.
Gold Sparkling Everywhere
While comparing the printing proofs, the lithographer carefully looks for the smallest discrepancies. Even the finest variations have to match the original: the differences between shining gold leaf and silky shimmering powdered gold as well as the silver parts tarnished to various tones. For this, various special techniques are required. Following the strictly monitored printing, specialists continue to enhance the facsimile shining with gold. With a steady hand, the book binder applies the brushed gilt edges. A goldsmith makes faithful replicas of the two oval plaques with the crowned monogram, the gold corner pieces and the clasps.
The Facsimile Folder for the Edition
The Sobieski Hours – take a look at this exclusive illustrated manuscript from the Royal Library at Windsor Castle!
Quaternio Editions Lucerne has completed for you a documentation folder accompanying the facsimile edition. Measuring 39.5 x 28.0 cm, it contains three original facsimile leaves, faithfully reproducing the colours, the shining gold and the silver. Detailed captions explain the miniatures. In a richly illustrated brochure, learn more about the history and the illumination of the manuscript. Discover the enticing pictorial world created by the Bedford Master and the two other artists, and gain an insight into the intricate production process of the facsimile.