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.
Funeral Procession of the Virgin
Saturday Hours of the Virgin: Compline
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)
The Virgin's funeral cortege consists of the twelve apostles. John, with a palm, leads the way; Peter sprinkles the cloth-covered coffin with holy water; and Paul censes it. At the left, the priest Jephonias hides behind a hillock with a group of soldiers. Two other soldiers have tried to stop the procession by toppling the coffin, but their hands miraculously stick to it; indeed, the hand of one soldier is severed from his wrist.
Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963; MS M.917, pp. 154–157
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:
the Holy Spirit
the Blessed Sacrament
the Compassion of God
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.