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Exhibitions | Online | The Black Hours

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This Book of Hours, referred to as the Black Hours, is one of a small handful of manuscripts written and illuminated on vellum that is stained or painted black. The result is quite arresting. The text is written in silver and gold, with gilt initials and line endings composed of chartreuse panels enlivened with yellow filigree. Gold foliage on a monochromatic blue background makes up the borders. The miniatures are executed in a restricted palette of blue, old rose, and light flesh tones, with dashes of green, gray, and white. The solid black background is utilized to great advantage, especially by means of gold highlighting.

The anonymous painter of the Black Hours is an artist whose style depended mainly upon that of Willem Vrelant, one of the dominant illuminators working in Bruges from the late 1450s until his death in 1481. As in the work of Vrelant, figures in angular drapery move somewhat stiffly in shallowly defined spaces. The men's flat faces are dominated by large noses.

Although, in general, well preserved, this manuscript has some condition problems. The black of its vellum—the very thing that makes the codex so striking—is also the cause of some serious flaking. The carbon used in the black renders the surface of the vellum smooth and shiny—a handsome but less than ideal supporting surface for some of the pigments. The Morgan's Black Hours is awaiting conservation treatment. In the meantime, we are pleased to offer a virtual facsimile.

"Black Hours," for Rome use. Belgium, Bruges, c. 1470 (MS M.493).
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The programs of The Morgan Library & Museum are made possible with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Background images: Photography by Todd Eberle unless otherwise noted. © 2006 Todd Eberle.