The large initials, colourful miniatures, and decorated borders of this Breviary illustrate the vitality of Cologne manuscript painting of the last decades of the 15th century. The selected themes for illumination fit to the importance of the feasts and depict quite literally the contents of the text it accompanies. The group of manuscripts known for the ‘goldrispen’ style of border decoration, known in Cologne since the 1450s-1460s and present in this manuscript, often also contain pen-flourishes in red ink with marked flowers and the similarly painted ‘christmasballs’. The present manuscript is an important witness of this type of Cologne illumination from the 1480s.
The colourful, somewhat naïf but surprising and lively miniatures, as well as the circumstances of the important patron, make this book not only a hallmark of Cologne’s late 15th century manuscript production but of Hesse family history as well. As administrator of the diocese of Cologne, Hermann von Hessen (1449-1508), son of the Landgraf of Hesse, became known for his heroic defence of the city of Neuss against the Burgundians (1474-1475).
That this long lost Breviary, a work of great artistic and historical value, has returned to the public again, is quite exceptional. This work is now in the collection of the Historisches Archiv in Cologne.
Read more about this manuscript in our Spotlight on Germany in the Middle Ages, in our Spotlight on the clergy, and in our Spotlight on the Crown on a Career.