Albeit small in size, this elaborate manuscript is full of finely illuminated and elegant texts, manifesting individuality. The calendar, executed with opulent use of gold, is only scarcely filled, which may refer to a commission destined for export. The patron(ess) could then fill out the feast days most important to him or her. The southern round script may allude to a scribe working for a southern destination.
Possibly, the patron was named Benedict (the name appears in the calendar and litany) and belonged to the Bruges parish of St. James, a parish that was frequented especially by foreign merchants. The Suffrages of saints in this manuscript open with James and also include Lucy, who is further honoured with a miniature. These specifics imply that this small, portable Book of Hours was a special commission. The Zane coat of arms is added to the decoration and not integrated; it may have been added shortly after the manuscript was completed - perhaps for a certain Benedetto Zane?
The small format manuscript with many illustrated pages is of remarkable quality and painted by one of the major hands of the so-called Masters of the Gold Scrolls Group. The oeuvre is named after the delicate feathered scrolling foliage painted with liquid gold on burgundy-red ground, which was frequently used and is easy to recognise. The figures have sweet, soft faces with rounded chins, which are also characteristic of this style. Special attention is devoted to the depiction of hair, often rendered with bright yellow strands on brown. The figures are drawn with fine precision, their gestures and expressions somewhat subdued, yet expressive and of great intensity. The fine and diligent handling of paint as well as the palette dominated by red, blue, and green with elaborate use of gold in the marginal decorations, together offer us one of the most attractive manuscripts in the so-called Golden-scrolls style.
Members of the Venetian Zane family were merchants, ducal advisors and prominent clergy – for instance, Lorenzo (d. 1485, bishop of Treviso, later of Brescia) and Bernardo Zane (c. 1450-1527, ‘master of arts and sacred theology’, archbishop of Split). Books continued to play an important role in the family until at least the end of the 17th century, when their Palazzo was restored by Dominico Zane (d. 1672). He bequeathed his property, including the important collection of books and paintings, to his nephew Marino. Marino Zane not only added the Palazetto Bru Zane (1695-1697), but also built a library to house the collection (no longer extant).
Read more about this manuscript in our Spotlight on Medieval Flanders.