Tree Growing from Adam’s Grave
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.
Having taken root, the branch from the Tree of Mercy planted by Seth in his father's mouth grows into a healthy tree. It breaks through the slab covering Adam's grave, raising his skull in the process. The horizon glows orange: symbolically a new day has dawned. In the bottom border is depicted the sacrifice of Abraham. The patriarch's willingness to kill his son Isaac (a sacrifice stopped, as we see here, by the hand of God) symbolizes God's willingness to sacrifice his son, Christ, on the Cross. The vignette thus hints at the future of the tree painted above it in the miniature.
Hours and Masses for the Seven Days of the Week
The most unusual texts in Catherine's manuscript are the series of Hours and Masses for every day of the week. Medieval Christian tradition associated certain figures or themes with different days. Thus Sunday, the day of the Resurrection, was the Lord's Day; Thursday was connected with the Eucharist since that sacrament was instituted on Holy Thursday; and Monday was the day of the dead, since their torments were suspended on Sunday but recommenced the following day. In Catherine's prayer book, the themes for the Hours and Masses of the seven days of the week are:
|Tuesday||the Holy Spirit|
|Thursday||the Blessed Sacrament|
|Friday||the Compassion of God|
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern