Fol. 7

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Jean Poyer

John's Lesson: John on Patmos
Border: John Boiled in Oil

Hours of Henry VIII, in Latin
Illuminated by Jean Poyer

France, Tours
ca. 1500
256 x 180 mm

The Dannie and Hettie Heineman Collection; deposited in 1962, given in 1977

MS H.8 (fol. 7)
Item description: 

Illuminated around 1500 by the artist Jean Poyer, The Hours of Henry VIII receives its name from the possible but unproven eighteenth-century tradition that holds King Henry of England once owned this splendid manuscript. By following the simple instructions, you can explore every painting of this Renaissance masterpiece and learn how Books of Hours helped their readers to pray.

Books of Hours contain more or less standard texts—Calendar, Gospel Lessons, Hours of the Virgin, Hours of the Cross, Hours of the Holy Spirit, Penitential Psalms with Litany, Office of the Dead, and Suffrages—as well as a number of common accessory prayers. Based on the frequency and variety of added devotions, it appears that scribes included these for owners who wished to personalize their prayer books.

Page description: 

John's Lesson: John on Patmos
Border: John Boiled in Oil (fol. 7)

By the beginning of the fifteenth century, four particular Gospel Lessons had become a regular feature in Books of Hours. These Lessons, which often follow the Calendar, are actually the Gospel readings from the Masses for the of the Church's major liturgical feasts.The Gospel Lessons for the Hours of Henry VIII (fols. 7–21v) are illustrated with a cycle of evangelist portraits, one placed at the beginning of each reading.

The first Lesson, from John (1:1– 14), acts as a kind of preamble for the entire Book of Hours. Its theme is humankind's need for redemption and God's willingness to provide it.

John, who writes on a scroll, does so on Patmos, the island to which he was banished by the Roman emperor Domitian (r. 81–96) and where, according to tradition, he wrote the Book of Revelation. The eagle is a symbol for John the Evangelist.

Before banishing John to Patmos, the emperor Domitian had tried to rid himself of the evangelist by boiling him to death. In the border, one man heats the fire with bellows to such a degree that his colleagues must shield their faces from the blast. John, calmly praying in the tub, remains unharmed.

The painted initial opens John's Lesson with its famous passage, In Principio erat verbu(m) (In the beginning was the Word), thus starting the Gospel's theme of Christ's Divinity.