Christ Carrying the Cross
Preparation of the Cross
Hours of Catherine of Cleves, in Latin
Illuminated by the Master of Catherine of Cleves
Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund and with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963
Created in Utrecht, The Netherlands, around 1440, the manuscript was taken apart sometime before 1856. Its leaves were shuffled and then rebound into two volumes to make each look more or less complete. The first part was acquired by the duke of Arenberg, whose descendants owned it until 1957, when it was bought by New York dealer H. P. Kraus, who sold it to Alistair Bradley Martin. This volume had been known by scholars as the "Hours of Catherine of Cleves."
Meanwhile, the second part had been acquired by the Rothschild family, who kept their manuscripts secret. In 1963 their volume was sold to the Morgan as yet another "Hours of Catherine of Cleves." Studying the newly acquired book (it became MS M.917) along with the Martin volume, Morgan curator John Plummer determined that they were actually two halves of one and the same codex. In 1964 the Morgan mounted an exhibition of both volumes, displaying all the miniatures via color transparencies. When a facsimile of the manuscript was published by George Braziller in 1966, the exhibition was repeated. Finally, in 1970, the Morgan was able to buy the Martin volume (it became MS M.945), and thus came to own both parts of this greatest of all Dutch manuscripts.
Both volumes have been disbound in preparation for rebinding the leaves in proper order.
With his pinched face and right hand supporting his back, Simon of Cyrene seems to offer only grudging assistance to Christ as he carries his Cross toward Calvary. Suspended from the Savior's waist on ropes are two spike blocks, nail-studded chunks of wood that applied special torture to his bare feet and ankles. Trailing the pair are Mary and St. John, stalwart witnesses to Christ's Passion. In the border, Veronica holds the sudarium, the cloth with which she wiped Christ's face and to which he miraculously imparted his image. In the unusual second miniature, Christ quietly observes the preparation of the Cross: its crossbeam is strengthened and a hole is drilled where his feet will be nailed. A grief-stricken Mary watches from behind the hillock.
Hours of the Passion
The Hours of the Passion are often found in Books of Hours following, as in Catherine's manuscript, the Hours of the Virgin. The lengthy psalms are supplemented with prayers that narrate the story of Christ's Passion. If Catherine had little time, she might pray Matins alone, where the three lessons encapsulate the entire Passion, from Christ's Arrest until his Death on the Cross. A slower meditation is provided by the remaining Hours. The drama begins at Vespers, whose prayer narrates events from Holy Thursday: the Last Super and Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles. Compline's prayer relates Christ's Agony in the Garden. The prayer at Lauds relates to Christ Before Pilate and Peter's Denial. The Passion concludes with None's prayer telling of Christ's Death on the Cross.
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern