A Rabbit, One Wedding & Two Funerals

Last week we visited mid-sixteenth-century Zurich to take a look at an intriguing encyclopedia of animals in Unicorns, Frogs & the Sausage Supper Affair. This week, for the second in our series of Remarkable Renaissance Books, we turn back the clock a couple of decades, and head northwest to Paris to pick up a very different kind of book – a Book of Hours, or Horae (Latin for ‘hours’). During the later Middle Ages, if you owned only one book, then there is a pretty good chance that it was a Book of Hours. These portable, small-format books were essentially prayer books for personal use. They typically open with a calendar of saints’ days and special feasts, followed by, in varying order, lessons from the Gospels, other Bible lessons or excerpts and, the core of the book, The Hours of the Virgin – a selection of prayers to be recited at eight times, or hours, throughout the day.

These prayerbooks for laypersons (the non-ordained) began to appear early in the thirteenth century, with their popularity reaching a peak during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when some of the most lavishly decorated Books of Hours were made. Among the most famous examples of medieval Books of Hours is the Très Riches Heures, an exquisitely painted book that cost a small fortune and was commissioned by John, Duke of Berry (1340–1416), otherwise known as John the Magnificent, brother to King Charles V of France.

Hastings Hours, c. 1480, British Library
One of my favorite manuscript Books of Hours, the Hastings Hours, c. 1480, Ghent or Bruges in the Low Countries. British Library: Add MS 54782. Be sure to take a look at the high-res, zoomable version. It’s magnificent.

Printed Hours
With the invention of print in the mid fifteenth century, the popularity of Books of Hours did not diminish. The first printed Book of Hours appeared in Augsburg in 1471, from the first printer in that city, Günther Zainer. This small, German-language prayerbook or ‘Gebetbuch’, is rather plain except for a number of red and blue painted initials. Most conspicuous is the size of the type, so that each line comprises, on average, just four or five words.

Augsburg German prayerbook, 1471.
First Book of Hours (German prayerbook) printed in Augsburg by Günthr Zainer, 1471. A small, plain book with large type. The page is about 13.5 cm tall. Digitized by Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

The second Book of Hours – and the first to appear in Italy – was printed by Theobald Schenkbeche in Rome in about 1473, and uncharacteristically for fifteenth-century Books of Hours it is set in a roman typeface, albeit a rather unusual one with several borrowed gothic letters (fig. 1). Only one copy of this edition has survived.

Roman font of Theobald Schenkbecher
Figure 1: Unusual mish-mash font of Theobald Schenkbecher. Note the gothic A, C, J, T, U and the gothic lowercase s. This is the typeface used in the second printed Book of Hours (the first in Italy), c. 1473.

Over the next two years, Nicolaus Jenson in Venice printed another five editions, all of which were set in an Italian gothic rotunda typeface (a slightly rounded blackletter). From those tentative first efforts in the early 1470s to the end of the century, more than 420 editions of Books of Hours were published. However, it was impossible to replicate the lavishly colored and painted manuscript Books of Hours in print. It would be several hundred years before such a thing was even feasible. Instead, printed Books of Hours were commonly decorated with woodcuts that could, if you had the money, be colored by a professional colorist or artist. Alternatively, one might even choose to color the woodcuts oneself – a kind of devotional painting by numbers, if you like.

Simon de Colines’ early printer’s devices: rabbits

One of Simon de Colines’ early printer’s devices.

Colines & Tory
By the beginning of the sixteenth century, France, most notably Paris, had taken the lead in the production of Books of Hours, even exporting them to Italy. Today’s featured book was printed in 1525 in Paris by two luminaries of French Renaissance printing, Simon de Colines and Geoffroy Tory. Colines (c. 1480–1546) was one of the foremost printer-publishers of his time, both in terms of his book designs and his type designs. He got his break in 1520, upon the death of Henri Estienne, when he took over management of his printshop and a little later, in 1521/2, married his widow, Guyonne Viart, becoming stepfather to eight children, including Robert Estienne (then aged 17). Geoffroy Tory (c. 1480–1533), artist, author and typographer, is perhaps best known for his constructed roman alphabet in his book, Champ-fleury (1529). Prior to their work on Books of Hours, Colines and Tory had collaborated on the publication of another book written by Tory upon the tragic death of his daughter Agnès, shortly before her tenth birthday. She appears to have been a precocious child (beyond the natural exaggeration in a father’s pride) and Tory had delighted in teaching her Latin and Greek and music and art. His book of Latin verse, In filiam charissimam Epitaphia et dialogi, printed in collaboration with Colines in 1523, reveals just how profoundly shaken he had been by his daughter’s untimely death.


– Robert Bringhurst in his introduction to The Scythe and the Rabbit: Simon De Colines and the Culture of the Book

Our featured book, the 1525 Book of Hours published by Colines and Tory, is interesting in several respects: First, there are woodcut borders on every page. Sometimes the text is accompanied by a woodcut illustration of a typical scene, like the annunciation, for example. The borders are drawn in line, without shadow or shading. All of the borders and illustrations are the work of Tory. They are rather typically Italian, with their origin in printed books going back to Erhard Ratdolt, the famed German printer who began his career in Venice. He used such a border to frame the first ever title-page in 1476. These classical motifs, vines and vases, putti and pedestals, were adopted by the Italian Renaissance.

1525 Book of Hours published by Colines and Tory
1525 Book of Hours published by Colines and Tory. The woodcut borders are typically Tory. The Annunciation scene on the right is not of exemplary artistic merit but is a tasteful accompaniment to the text, – in contrast to many of the heavy gothic borders that imprison the text. Note Tory’s name in the right margin and his favorite Latin mottos, SIC UT and NON PLUS, in the bottom border piece of that same page.

In this particular volume, the use of hand-painted decoration is kept to a discreet minimum, with justr 16 sixteen delicately painted, five-line initials used to signal the beginnings of sections; plus a handful of red-printed, three-line roman initials and some other printed rubrication. The overall effect is a much lighter and brighter page than that of the typical ‘Gothic’ Books of Hours.

Book of Hours printed by Pigouchet in 15021499 Lyonnaise Book of hours
Above:Two rather typical turn-of-the-century Books of Hours. Left: Parisian Book of Hours printed by Pigouchet (a prolific printer of Books of Hours) in 1502; right: printed in Lyons in 1499. Both Gothic in type and in design.

However, perhaps the most striking feature of this particular copy is the title-page, which has been printed and then painted by an evidently accomplished artist. The scene depicts a contemporary printing press (in a garden setting, of course!), with a press operator in the foreground, an inker holding his two inking balls at the ready; and, on the right, the compositor with his type case and exemplar manuscript, used as a guide to typesetting.

title-page, printed Book of Hours by Colines and Tory, 1525
Title-page from the 1525 Book of Hours made by Simon de Colines & Geoffroy Tory.

The Colines and Tory Book of Hours is rather special in that it sets a new standard for the printing of this kind of book. It is set in a fine roman type designed by Colines (a small pica roman). In the fifteenth century, very few religious books were printed in roman types. For example, during those years, only two Bibles were printed in roman types. We also saw that the very first printed Italian Book of Hours was set in roman type but thereafter they were invariably set in gothic types.

* 1473, Rome; c. 1475, Ferrara; 1478, Naples; 1481, Rome; 1483, 1486, c. 1487, 1488, Florence; c. 1495, Venice; 1496, Naples. And for those wishing to do their own digging, here are the ISTC references for those nine editions set in roman types: ih00357230; ih00357290; ih00357370; ih00357500; ih00357750; ic00788300; ih00357450; ih00378250; ih00378300

In Italy, during the entire fifteenth century, of the 58 editions of Books of Hours printed in Italy, only nine (15%)* were set in roman types. I haven’t had time to check the types used in the other 350 or so editions printed outside of the Italian peninsula but I would guess that very few, if any, were set in roman types. The 1525 Book of Hours by Colines and Tory is important, then, in that it signals a significant typographical shift toward the broader adoption of roman types, even in religious books. Or as William Ivans so eloquently put it, ‘the day of the gothic book in France was over, attacked and killed in its deepest citadel, the prayer book.’

During these early decades of the sixteenth century, the modern book, the one that we are familiar with today, was codified and a typographic orthodoxy established. The way books look today owe a great deal to those influential French book designers, typographers and type designers of the sixteenth century.

By the way, demand for Books of Hours declined after 1571, when Pope Pius V issued a decree on their use but that’s a story for another day.

Reference & further reading:
I consulted the digital copy of the Colines & Tory Book of Hours hosted by the Bibliothèque Nationale, France

Kay Amert, ‘Intertwining Strengths: Simon De Colines & Robert Estienne’, Book History, 8, 2005, pp. 1–10

Kay Amert, The Scythe & the Rabbit: Simon de Colines & the Culture of the Book in Renaissance Paris

Elizabeth Armstrong, Robert Estienne, Royal Printer: An Historical Study of the Elder Stephanus

Cristina Dondi, ‘Books of Hours: the development of the texts in printed form’ in Incunabula and Their Readers

Christopher de Hamel, A History of Illuminated Manuscripts

John Harthan, Books of Hours & Their Owners

Sandra Hindman & James Marrow (eds), Books of Hours Reconsidered

William Ivans, Jr., ‘Geoffroy Tory’, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, 15(4), pp. 79–86 (p. 82) [PDF]

Virginia Reinburg, French Books of Hours: Making an Archive of Prayer, c.1400–1600

Wendy A. Stein, The Book of Hours: A Medieval Bestseller

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