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.
Mouth of Hell
Office of the Dead
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)
There is no more inventive—or scary—miniature in Catherine's prayer book than this full-page depiction of hell. A gaping lion's mouth opens its batlike lips tipped with talons; inside is another, red-hot maw. Demons cast damned souls into this terrifying entrance to the furnace of hell, above which rises the castle of death decorated with skulls. Burning towers heat caldrons into which mutilated souls are pitched. A third mouth forms the domed roof. At the bottom crouches a green demon whose mouth sprouts scrolls inscribed with the Seven Deadly Sins. In the smaller miniature, the holy water and incense offered by the priest to a corpse seem like scant protection for the potential horrors depicted in the facing image.
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. 168v–169r
Office of the Dead
The Office of the Dead was in the back of every Book of Hours the way death itself was always at the back of the medieval mind. While the other prayers in a Book of Hours are quasi-liturgical (reflecting but not equaling official Church practice), the Office of the Dead is identical to that found in the service books used by the Church's ordained.
It was assumed that most people's entry into heaven would be delayed by a detour (lasting, potentially, thousands of years) in purgatory, the fires of which cleansed the soul of unforgiven sin. Praying the Office of the Dead for one's deceased friends or relatives—who could not pray for themselves—was one of the more efficacious means of reducing for them the fiery price of paradise. Recited at funerals, the Office of the Dead was also ideally prayed every day.
The three Hours of the Office (Vespers, Matins, and Lauds) consist of psalms plus a series of moving readings from the Old Testament Book of Job. The trials endured by Job become an allegory for one's time on earth—and in purgatory. The voice of Job, crying for pity and mercy, becomes the voice of the dead.
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.