The majority of Dutch medieval Books of Hours are written in the vernacular. They contain the texts translated by Geert Grote (1340–1384), the major protagonist of the Devotio Moderna and founder of communities of Brothers and Sisters of the Common Life. The liturgical calendar preceding the texts follows the use of the diocese of Utrecht. The misspelling of names such as Sarijs for Marijs (Marius, 19 January) and others, are mistakes found in a great number of books. Therefore, this group of manuscripts has been dubbed 'Sarijs-manuscripts'. The origin of these manuscripts is related to the book production of the Brothers of the Common Life in St. Gregory House in Zwolle.
Most of the Books from Zwolle that can be attributed to the Brothers of the Common Life were ready-made Books of Hours produced apparently for the open market, rather than on commission.
However, upon request and according to the demand of patrons, the manuscripts were also decorated, illustrated and bound in a binding with blind stamped decoration. The craftsmen from this school or workshop tended to imitate their choice of models rather closely. The illuminators to a large extent resorted to a fixed repertoire of images, some based on printed examples in blockbooks, such as the Biblia Pauperum.
In the present manuscript, the 'Harrowing of Hell' opening the Office of the Dead, for instance, is based on a model from the Biblia Pauperum. It is known that the blocks of these prints were at the disposal of the Zwolle printer Peter van Os, who may have supplied miniaturists with printed models.
The present manuscript has a decorative style that is characteristic for the 'Sarijs' group, namely initials in gold on a blue and pink background, with slender tendrils drawn in pen covering the margins. All of the principal decorative schemes and motifs as well as the compositions of its miniatures, have close counterparts in other manuscripts belonging to this group. However, in this manuscript the use of gold was rather generous, not only the borders are decorated with gold but also all images are shown against a burnished gold background.
For further information on this group of manuscripts please refer to our catalogue Parchment and Gold (p. 320-323). You can view this catalogue here.
Read more about this manuscript in our Spotlight.