The Grandes Heures de Rohan (French = The Grand Hours of Rohan; Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, M.S. Latin 9471; commonly known as The Rohan Hours) is an illuminated manuscript Book of Hours, painted by the anonymous artist, the Rohan Master, between 1430 and 1435, in the Gothic style. It contains the usual offices, prayers and litanies in Latin, along with supplemental texts, decorated with 11 full page, 54 half page, and 227 small miniatures, decorated with tempera paints and gold leaf. The book margins are decorated with Old Testament miniatures with captions in Old French, in the style of a Bible moralisée. The full page illuminations are renowned for the highly emotional and dramatic portrayal of the agonies of Christ and the grief of the Virgin. According to Millard Meiss, "The Rohan Master cared less about what people do than what they feel. Whereas his great predecessors excelled in the description of the novel aspects of the natural world, he explored the realm of human feeling." Meiss concludes that the Rohan Master was the "greatest expressionist in 15th century France." Today, this manuscript is housed in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France.
An alternate theory suggests that The Hours was commissioned by the House of Rohan, as indicated by their arms shown on some of the pages (blazon: gules, in chief seven mascles d’or). The commission would have been made in 1431 to celebrate the marriage of Charles of Anjou, Count of Maine, to a daughter of Alain IX of Rohan, however that marriage never took place.
Other scholars suggest that Yolande of Aragon commissioned this book of hours for her daughter, which is unlikely, because the Latin prayers have masculine endings.
Another theory suggests that The Hours was commissioned by Yoland, Countess of Bar. If so, The Hours was created before the death of Jean, Duke of Berry, lending credence to the claim that the face of Saint John in Lamentation of the Virgin (f. 135, Pl. 57) is a portrait of Duke Jean. He insisted on such idiosyncrasies, when he was alive.
The identity of the Rohan Master is shrouded in mystery. The Rohan Master was the anonymous illuminator who is named after this masterpiece of 15th c illumination. Scholars assume that the Rohan Master headed a large, productive workshop that had the favor and patronage of the House of Anjou. The first studies of the miniatures indicated that the Rohan Master only painted 3 and a half of the full page miniatures. Since the Master illuminated so little of the book, it was not known whether he was a painter, or an entrepreneur. Meiss and Thomas ascribe ten of the eleven surviving full page miniatures to the Rohan Master, as well as three half page miniatures: folio 33v, Plate 36; f. 210, Pl. 79; and f. 217, Pl. 93. Meiss references altar panels that the Rohan Master had painted, proving he was more than an entrepreneur; he was a skilled painter of church art, as well as a dramatic miniaturist. There is another Book of Hours in the British Library attributed to the master, plus a further one there and others elsewhere attributed to artists close to him. The BnF also has a Boccaccio by him and his workshop.
The Rohan Master’s miniatures are highly emotional. He used the angle of the face, hair, gestures, and draping of veils and clothing to convey his figures’ emotions. Such expressiveness was not usual in 15th century France. Meiss suggests that the Rohan Master came from the Netherlands, Germany, Provence, or Catalonia, the homeland of his patroness, Yolande.
An alternate theory suggests that the artist was André Beauneveu, also Andrieu Beauneveu, (1335-1401). He worked in England under the patronage of Philippa of Hainault, Queen of England. Upon her death in 1369, Beauneveu returned to the continent. Records show that Beauneveu accepted numerous commissions for panel paintings, stained glass, and sculptures. At some point, Beauneveu worked under the patronage of Jean, Duke of Berry. The Hours contains portraits of Saint John that resemble the Duke of Berry. It was a habit of the Duke of Berry to have himself painted into his books as Saint John, his patron saint. Based on Beauneveu’s recorded commissions and known residencies, The Hours may have been produced as early as the 1370s.
It is further proposed that Beauneveu trained the Limbourg Brothers in 1400. This places The Hours chronologically before the Limbourgs’ creation of the Tres Riches Heures du Jean, Duc de Berry. And, this alternate theory claims that the Tres Riches Heures and the Grandes Heures du Jean, Duc de Berry were influenced by The Hours; rather than vice versa, which satisfactorily explains the similarities among some of the pictures in these three books of hours.
Regardless, the majority of this book was illuminated by the Rohan workshop assistants. The full page Crucifixion (f. 27, Pl. 33) and the majority of the half page miniatures were probably done by a second, lesser illuminator in the workshop. The style of the workshop was greatly influenced by the Bedford and Boucicaut Masters. And, the iconographic models for many of the assistants’ illuminations came from the Limbourg Brothers, and the Angevin Bible, Bible moralisée. The copied Bible moralisée illuminations in the margins were done rather quickly and imperfectly by two or three minor painters from the Rohan workshop.
Illuminated by the anonymous Rohan Master and many assistants, in Paris, France, ca. 1430-1435.
Or, illuminated by André (Andrieu) Beauneveu (1335-1401) and many assistants, in Paris, France, ca. 1369-1401.
An Old Testament miniature is painted in the margin of each page, which does not have a full page miniature. Each Old Testament miniature has a caption in Old French. This marginal series forms a secondary book, a Bible moralisée.
Estimated number of pages missing: several folios of an unknown number of pages.
The book originally had 15 full page miniatures. The four missing full color pages are: The Nativity; The Adoration of the Magi; the first page of the Penitential Psalms, usually depicting King David; and the first page of the Fifteen Joys of the Virgin, usually depicting the Virgin.
Observing the canonical hours centered upon the recitation, or singing, of a number of psalms, which are accompanied by prayers, specified by the eight hours of the liturgical day. The core text of a Book of Hours is the Little Office of the Virgin. This series of hourly prayers was prayed to the Mother of God, who co-mediates and sanctifies the prayers to God. Two prayers, Obsecro te, "I beseech thee," and O intemerata, "O chaste one," were extremely popular. They are personal addresses to the Virgin. This was the logical place for the person, who commissioned the book, to include his or her portrait. The Latin masculine or feminine endings used in these personal prayers can provide a clue to the gender of the original owner. The Rohan Hours was intended for a male owner.
At the beginning of each hour, the artists portrayed a standard cycle of illuminations, based on the life of the Virgin. The Rohan Hours contains The Annunciation, The Visitation, The Annunciation to the Shepherds, The Presentation in the Temple, The Flight into Egypt, and The Coronation of the Virgin. The Nativity and The Adoration of the Magi from the cycle are presumed lost.
The Penitential Psalms were recited to help one resist the temptation of committing any of the Seven Deadly Sins. The prayers in the Office of the Dead were prayed to shorten the time a loved one spent in Purgatory. Supplementary texts were added to celebrate any personal patron, family saint, special circumstances, or a fortuitous event.
The Suffrages are short prayers to saints, asking them to intercede on behalf of the petitioner. The prayers were often accompanied by portraits of the saints, with the symbols or their martyrdom, or the attributes of their patronage. The Suffrages were arranged in a particular hierarchy: God, Christ, the Virgin Mary, the angels, Saint John the Baptist, apostles, martyrs, confessors, and women saints. This standard pattern of daily prayer provided the framework for the artists' efforts.
This book of hours contains:
On every page not occupied by a full page miniature, The Hours has a marginal scene from the Old Testament. As a whole, this series of marginal miniatures forms a secondary book, a Bible moralisée. Each marginal miniature depicts an Old Testament scene that is somehow related to the principal New Testament picture on the same page. The purpose of the marginal scene was to show how the Old Testament paved the way for that particular New Testament scene, according to the theological theory called typology. Some marginal scene captions are mere descriptions of the biblical vignette. Other captions contain a moralization or short explanation of the moral of the scene, for the spiritual education of the reader; hence the name, Bible moralisée.
The Hours ends abruptly at the Stabat Mater. Either the ending pages are missing, or more likely, this book of hours was never completed.
The text of this book of hours was written according to the use of Paris.
The principal Latin text was written in Gothic script by two scribes. The first scribe has a somewhat unskilled hand; the second has a clear, elegant Parisian hand. The calendar text was written in red, gold, and blue ink, depending on the particular feast. The Gospels were written in alternating lines in blue, gold, and red inks. The text specific to the liturgical hours was written in Latin with black, and rarely blue, ink. In the margins, the Bible moralisée is written in Old French with black ink.
The Latin prayers have masculine endings. Even though this book was commissioned by a woman, it was meant for use by a man.
Techniques: Illuminated manuscript
The Rohan Master broke with convention by portraying the unexpected and the shocking. He illuminates the calendar in vertical boxes, which normally would contain the calendar text. In The Resurrection (f. 159, Pl. 61), the Master unexpectedly depicts Christ as an aged man on a rainbow. Perhaps, this was his attempt to show the Trinity in a new and different way. In The Coronation of the Virgin (f. 106v., Pl. 54), the coronation is not conducted by Christ, as was usually the case; rather, she is received by God the Father, while his angels honor her by reciting from the liturgy of the Feast of the Assumption. The Master shows the glorious Resurrection of the Dead in a shocking way. The faithful are resurrected in the same state in which they had died: feeble infant, maiden, and infirm elder. This contradicts the 15th century expectation that every Christian would be resurrected in a young, strong, beautiful body--in the prime of life.
The Master’s flat landscapes and background are unconventional. The Master and his assistants did not use the usual 15th century three-dimensional space and atmospheric lighting. The Master was not interested in depicting realistic scenes. The backgrounds provide a stage for his emotionally expressive figures. Many seemingly plain blue backgrounds upon closer examination show a flury of activity as a multitude of angels are discovered delicately traced in gold. He portrays profound emotions by using intense colors, comparing motion with stasis, and contrasting lean and plump figures. By contrasting beauty and joy with ugliness and pain, the Rohan Master creates a unique and dramatic spiritual art. The epitome of the Master's art is the the Lamentation of the Virgin (f. 135, Pl. 57) from the Hours of the Cross section, of The Rohan Hours. The grieving Virgin cannot be consoled by John the Baptist, who looks up in consternation at a saddened God.
The marginal Bible moralisée subject matter and treatment were based on a book in the possession of Yolande of Aragon, Duchess of Anjou. Her husband, Louis II of Anjou, brought a Bible moralisée from Naples, but it was probably made in Bologna. It is known as the Angevin Bible (Bibliothèque Nationale, MS. fr. 9561). There is no doubt the Rohan atelier assistants charged with decorating the margins used the Duke’s book as their model. Not only was the subject matter copied from the Angevin Bible, but the errors in the captions were copied, too.
In 1994, the publisher, George Braziller, released a 248-page, hardback edition. ISBN 0807613584
In 2006, a complete color facsimile bound in leather, issued with a separate 377-page commentary in Spanish (Grandes Horas de Rohan) was produced by A y N Ediciones, Madrid, Spain. ISBN 8493405450