MS M.917, pp. 252–253
SS. Fabian and Sebastian
Hours of Catherine of Cleves, in Latin
Illuminated by the Master of Catherine of Cleves
Utrecht, The Netherlands
Tempera on vellum
7 1/2 x 5 1/8 in. (192 x 130 mm)
Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund and with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963
MS M.917, pp. 252–253
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.
The pope and the soldier share a feast (January 20) and thus a miniature. Fabian, third-century pope and martyr, stands in attire appropriate to his pontifical office. Atop his head is a tiara surmounted by a cross, and his gloved hands grip a papal staff along with the sword of his martyrdom. Tied to a column next to him is Sebastian, a popular saint invoked against plague. The nude torso above his loincloth and bright crimson hose is pierced by many arrows, the result of his refusal to recant his Christian faith. In the border, and referring to Sebastian's torment, is a variety of archery equipment: longbows and crossbows, arrows and bolts, and the accompanying quivers and bolt bags. Note the curious double stringed longbow at the left: it has a woven hole in the string and an iron loop in the handle through which the arrow must travel.
Suffrages are short prayers to individual saints. As protectors of medieval people, saints were their doctor in plague, their midwife at childbirth, their guardian when traveling, and their nurse during toothache. If the Virgin was the figure to whom one addressed the all-important petition for eternal salvation, it was from saints that one sought more basic or temporal kinds of help. While the Virgin became, as the Mother of God, almost a goddess herself, saints retained more of their humanity and thus their approachability.
Image courtesy of Faksimile Verlag Luzern