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 Virgin and the Crucified Christ Intercede for Catherine of Cleves
Virgin and Child in a Grape Arbor
Saturday Mass of the Virgin
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 large miniature that opens the Saturday Mass of the Virgin contains the third portrait of Catherine, kneeling at right. A saint (Leonard?) is behind her, and her humble demeanor contrasts with the intercession she is seeking. Her scroll petitions Mary to pray for her. The Virgin, bearing a breast, entreats her crucified Son to be kind to Catherine for the sake of the mother who nursed him. Christ takes time out from his death and asks, in the name of his wounds, that his Father spare the duchess. God responds, "Your prayer has been answered." The smaller miniature shows Mary quietly reading while angels babysit the Christ Child. More angels chant in the bottom border.
Purchased on the Belle da Costa Greene Fund with the assistance of the Fellows, 1963; MS M.917, pp. 160–161
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.