Portraits in Prayer Books

Book of Hours, in Latin and French

France, Paris
ca. 1500
160 x 110 mm

Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1909

MS M.365, fols. 15v–16r
Item description: 

Men and women who specially commissioned Books of Hours often asked that their portraits be included. The woman portrayed here originally faced an image of the Virgin Mary, which has since gone astray. Her fur-lined gown has the new square neck and small bombard sleeves. Her headgear is the new small-crowned coif with wide frontlet and an unusually long cornet trailing down her back. She prays from a rosary and a Book of Hours, the loose green chemise binding of which spreads like a place mat over the prie-dieu.

Exhibition section: 

Twilight of the Middle Ages

This was a period of transition in northern Europe—the Middle Ages were not yet over, and the Renaissance had not yet begun. Both King Charles VIII and Louis XII invaded Italy, and these military campaigns exposed France to Italian art, culture, and fashion. At the same time, the Late Gothic style still dominated the arts—and clothing—of northern Europe. Fashions of this period reflect these conflicts.

In the 1480s, the look for men changed abruptly. Padded shoulders and the V-shaped silhouette disappeared. Long loose open gowns came into style and, by the 1490s, these gowns became especially voluminous and bulky. Round-toed shoes replaced the pointy pouleines. New, however, and probably reflecting Italian influence, were the man's outer coat called a sayon, the man's hat called a carmignolle, and doublets with slit sleeves through which the linen of the shirt protruded.

Women's gowns of this period also became fuller, and bombard sleeves were revived. The neck got square. The turret disappeared, while its frontlet remained, now attached to a new small-crowned coif.