MS M.917/945, ff. 10v–11r

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Singing Angels

The Netherlands, Utrecht
ca. 1440
7 1/2 x 5 1/8 inches (192 x 130 mm)

Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund with the assistance of the Fellows and with special assistance of Mrs. Frederick B. Adams, Sr., Mrs. Robert Charles, Mr. Laurens M. Hamilton, The Heineman Foundation, Mrs. Donald F. Hyde, Mrs. Jacob M. Kaplan, Mrs. John Kean, Mr. Paul Mellon, Mr. and Mrs. Charles F. Morgan, Mr. Lessing J. Rosenwald, Mr. and Mrs. August H. Schilling, Mrs. Herbert N. Straus, Mrs. Landon K. Thorne, Mrs. Alan Valentine, Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Whitridge, and Miss Julia P. Wightman, 1970

MS M.917/945, ff. 10v–11r

Three angels sing the Te deum (We praise thee, O God), a hymn that appears at the end of Matins of the Virgin. Angels are mentioned first in the hymn's list of those who joyfully worship God. In the margins, golden peas in open pods symbolize fertility—the theme of the full-page miniature (one of eleven now missing from the manuscript) that originally faced these chanting angels. This was the Annunciation to Anne that she was pregnant with the Virgin Mary.

Hours of the Virgin

The heart of every Book of Hours is the series of prayers called the Hours of the Virgin. Each Hour is composed of psalms plus hymns, biblical readings, and short phrases (antiphons, versicles, and responses). Ideally, these eight Hours were prayed throughout the course of the day:

Matins and Lauds at night or upon rising
Prime (first Hour) at 6:00 a.m.
Terce (third Hour) at 9:00 a.m.
Sext (sixth Hour) at noon
Nones (ninth Hour) at 3:00 p.m.
Vespers (evensong) in the early evening
Compline before retiring.

The Hours of the Virgin date back to at least the ninth century. By the late twelfth century, the Hours appeared in Psalters, prayer books popular with laypeople. With a rising economy and the growth of the merchant class, the thirteenth century saw an increase in lay literacy. By the middle of the century, the Hours of the Virgin "spun off" from the Psalter and formed the core of the laypeople's prayer book, the Book of Hours.

The Virgin Mary is, of course, not mentioned in the numerous psalms of the Old Testament that comprise much of the Hours. Framing the psalms, however, are prayers that offer a mystical interpretation of the psalms and reveal the role played by the Virgin in mankind's salvation.


Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern