Religion and Devotion
BPL 2905 (Den Bosch, Netherlands, c.1450-1500): Breviarium (Breviary), parchment, 186 fols., 230 x 155 mm, 2 cols., 34 lines.

The book of hours was one of the most popular books in the later Middle Ages, especially amongst lay people, who used it for private devotion. Members of the clergy, however, preferred the breviarium for their daily prayers. The breviarium not only contained the liturgy of hours but also prayers for specific holy-days, as well as a choir psalter and litanies. Both the books of hours and breviaries contained a calendar of the feast days of different saints. It is often possible to locate the precise location of production of a manuscript based on the saints that are mentioned on these calendars. For example, fol. 4r in this manuscript references March 17 as the feast day of Saint Gertrude “in hac domo buscodis”, which tells us that the manuscript was produced in or for the Convent of St. Gertrude in ‘s Hertogenbosch (the Netherlands). This convent, which housed nuns primarily of noble birth, was famous for a miraculous image of the Virgin.

The decoration of this manuscript is unique, as there are no other known examples of the type of pen-flourished initials1 that are used within. In fol. 86r the illuminator has drawn the head of an animal and in fol. 137r he has drawn a bird. Even though there are almost no annotations in this manuscript, someone has added some staff-lines with musical notes in the margin (see fol. 52v, fol. 72v and fol. 186r).

(Gumbert, 2009, p. 240) (Koldeweij & Middelkoop, 1990, p. nr.116) (missing reference)


  1. Manuscripts were made from parchment, paper or a combination of these two materials. The quality of these materials varied considerably. What material was used in this manuscript and how can you tell?
  2. Most manuscripts lack miniatures and the colorful decoration that medieval books are so well known for. The reason for this absence is usually pragmatic: there was no need for such decorative elements or the reader lacked the financial means for them. However, many medieval books contain some color, however little or rudimentary. Make an inventory of all colors present in this manuscript, from the main text (what color is it, does its color vary or is it constant?) and the chapter titles, to any other colorful element the book may have. What other colors than that of the main text are present and what purpose do they serve? In other words, why were other colors than the regular brown or black ink of the main text added to the manuscript?


  1. Gumbert, J. P. (2009). Illustrated Inventory of Medieval Manuscripts in Latin script in the Netherlands. Verloren.
  2. Koldeweij, A. M., & Middelkoop, N. (Eds.). (1990). In Buscoducis 1450 1629: Kunst uit de Bourgondische tijd te ’s-Hertogenbosch: De cultuur van late middeleeuwen en renaissance (Vol. 1). Schwartz-SDU.