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.
Hours of the Passion: Vespers
Hours of Catherine of Cleves, in Latin
Illuminated by the Master of Catherine of Cleves
The Netherlands, Utrecht, ca. 1440
7 1/2 x 5 1/8 inches (192 x 130 mm)
While Joseph of Arimathaea, holding a jar of ointment, looks on, Nicodemus, at the top of the ladder, hands the body of the dead Savior to a younger man. Mary Magdalene, her back to us, raises her hands in distress; the Virgin swoons into John's arms. In the Lamentation, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus reverently anoint Christ's feet and arms with cloth-covered hands; the Virgin supports the upper half of the Savior's body in her lap. Mary Magdalene raises her hands in anguish while John prays.
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.945, ff. 69v–70r
Hours of the Passion
The Hours of the Passion are often found in Books of Hours following, as in Catherine's manuscript, the Hours of the Virgin. The lengthy psalms are supplemented with prayers that narrate the story of Christ's Passion. If Catherine had little time, she might pray Matins alone, where the three lessons encapsulate the entire Passion, from Christ's Arrest until his Death on the Cross. A slower meditation is provided by the remaining Hours. The drama begins at Vespers, whose prayer narrates events from Holy Thursday: the Last Super and Christ Washing the Feet of the Apostles. Compline's prayer relates Christ's Agony in the Garden. The prayer at Lauds relates to Christ Before Pilate and Peter's Denial. The Passion concludes with None's prayer telling of Christ's Death on the Cross.
Who Was Catherine of Cleves?
Catherine of Cleves (1417–1476) is known for two
things: her Book of Hours and her protracted
political battle against her husband. In 1430 she
married Arnold of Egmond (1410 –1473), becoming
duchess of Guelders. Although she bore her
husband six children, the marriage was not happy.
By 1440 Catherine refused to live with him.
War between husband and wife was sparked
by Arnold's disinheriting his only living son, Adolf
(1438–1477; rumor had it that Adolf accused his
father of homosexuality). Catherine's siding with
her son in the conflict led to anarchy. The cities
of Nijmegen, Zutphen, and Arnhem supported
Catherine and her son; Roermond sided with the
duke. In 1465 mother and son imprisoned Arnold,
forcing him to abdicate. Adolf, as duke, spent
six years in ceaseless struggles with his father's
In 1471 Catherine watched in horror as Arnold
secured his freedom and regained his title while Adolf
was imprisoned. Arnold died in 1473, disinheriting
both wife and son. Catherine's death in 1476 robbed
her seeing the release of her son. Adolf's liberty was
short-lived; he died the next year.