Printed Books of Hours

Caught between tradition and innovation, printed books continued the history of the Book of Hours, even though standardization usually required regional variations to be replaced by the universal usage of Rome. Printers of several cities undertook the production of Books of Hours, but most of these works were printed in Paris.

Luxurious Books of Hours, printed on parchment rather than on paper, were meant to resemble manuscripts. For their part, the owners paid for engravings on wood or metal to be coloured so as to look like illuminations and could also personalize their books by affixing their bookplates and coats of arms.

The market for printed Books of Hours flourished between 1480 and 1530. Indeed, given their more affordable prices compared to those for manuscripts, these works became for many people the only access to books and reading, which hitherto had been the privilege of the wealthier classes. These private prayer books also gradually incorporated didactic or moralizing passages in the vernacular (maxims of practical morals, precepts of medicine and astrology, and of the rural economy).

Although the production of many of these objects was standardized, the printed books in this exhibition are still rarities, since for each edition on display there are generally only a handful of other copies in the world, and these are not necessarily complete and often include important variations.

Credits: Montreal Museum of Fine Arts / Musée de beaux-arts de Montréal for permissions to use texts prepared by Brenda Dunn-Lardeau et Richard Virr for the 2018 exhibition: Resplendent Illuminations: Books of Hours from the 13th to the 16th Century in Quebec Collections / Resplendissantes enluminures : Livres d’Heures du XIIIe au XVIe siècle dans les collections du Québec.