Monday, January 30, 2006

More Book Madness, a Review of “A Masterpiece Reconstructed, The Hours of Louis XII

This is an absolutely gorgeous book, especially for anyone interested in medieval art or history. It is edited by Thomas Kren (Curator of Manuscripts, The J. Paul Getty Museum) and Mark Evens (Senior Curator of Paintings, The Victoria and Albert Museum), with essays by Janet Backhouse (Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts, the British Library, since deceased), Thomas Kren, Nancy Turner (Associate Conservator of Manuscripts, The J. Paul Getty Museum) and Mark Evans.

The subject is the remaining parts of a book of hours, commissioned by Louis XII of France from Jean Bourdichon in the mid-to-late Fifteenth Century. The writing is exceptionally clear and readable, showing the great love of the subject held by the authors whose illustrious titles might make one fear that this would be a less accessible and more technical book. The plates and illustrations are beautiful and clearly printed, with numerous details and enlargements. The essays place the Hours of Louis XII clearly within the context of Bourdichon’s work, as well showing the connections with Flemish illumination styles, and the work of Jean Fouquet (who preceded Bourdichon as illuminator to the court in France). They also show how the Hours fits into the evolving trends of figure painting and subject matter in medieval times, and even how the subject choices reflected Louis’ character. I especially enjoyed Ms. Turner’s essay explaining Bourdichon’s manuscript painting techniques and materials. The final essay covering the provenance of the manuscript after it became broken up (somewhere before 1700) is also excellent, clearly showing the academic detective work necessary in understanding and reuniting the Hours.

I highly recommend “A Masterpiece Reconstructed” for anyone interested in art history or the Middle Ages, or anyone simply interested in beauty.

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