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Painting & Illumination

Adoration Guelders 1415

The Adoration

Origin / Date Guelders or Utrecht, c. 1410-20
Material Tempera and gold on vellum
Dimensions 140 x 113mm (likely trimmed from circa 180x 135mm?)
Availability Not for sale


The Adoration
Miniature for a Book of Hours
Netherlands: Nijmegen, Arnhem or Utrecht
c. 1410-20
Tempera and gold on very fine vellum

Miniature - 87 x 60mm (to inner frame of miniature - 87x77mm including bar borders)

A new footnote In the history of pre-Eyckian Netherlandish painting 1.

This ravishing little painting of the Nativity, made to be bound into a Book of Hours, is worthy of special consideration already by reason of its position at the very beginning of two traditions in which the Netherlands has often led the whole world: the art of painting and the cult(ure) of the book 2. Specifically, this miniature seems to constitute a piece with links to at least two art-historical puzzles in the field of early Netherlandish painting. On the one hand it is associated stylistically with a manuscript of c. 1420 or earlier that is generally regarded, from the very first mention by Byvanck on (1922), as one of the three or so greatest illuminated manuscripts ever made in Holland, finding its place between the best work of the Dirc van Delf masters of the first generation of c. 1405, (represented by. J. Paul Getty Museum, MS 40) and the Hours of Catharine of Cleves of the third generation of c. 1440, (now Morgan Library and Museum MSS M.917 and M.945). It is a book that can claim
importance because, together with the work of the painter Johan Maelwael (Jean Malouel) and his nephews the brothers Limbourg, the sculptors Claus Sluter and his nephew Claux de Werve, and the first-generation illuminators just mentioned, it can claim to embody the very earliest great Netherlandish as opposed to Flemish art before Jan van Eyck that has survived. This is a book, now in a private collection, perhaps still in search of a name 3, that belonged to some of the greatest collectors of the 20th century, Sir Sydney Cockerell, Major Abbey and Helmut Beck 4.
On the other hand, the present miniature seems directly linked with another Dutch manuscript, of equal fame but more puzzling compilation, the Prayerbook of Mary of Guelders 5, written in the Windesheim congregation convent of Mariënborn near Arnhem in 1415, and illuminated by artists of a Rhenish bent (called the Passion master of Mary of Guelders), a more ‘courtly’ version of the same (the Mary of Guelders masters) and a Dutch version of the courtly school (Otto of Moerdrecht masters). Not only has one of the artists of this book always been seen as very close to the master of the ‘Windesheim Hours’ invoked above, in this miniature the unique “trident” shape of ivy-leaf in the border, as well as the bar border from which the sprigs spring, is virtually identical to that used in the Prayerbook.
The “Windesheim” artist, who is a pivotal figure in this milieu, mostly remains an enigma 6. The Rijksmuseum exhibition of 1958 on Northern Dutch Medieval Art already said that “the hand of this artist has not been traced in other MSS”. Scholars from Lieftinck (1959) and Hoogewerff (1963) on have associated him with the various semi-lay conventual and monastic scriptoria associated with a Dutch pietistic movement, - launched in the 14th century by Geert Grote and called Devotio Moderna, - and mostly established
around Utrecht, Arnhem and Zwolle in the centre east of the Netherlands. Through land donated at Windesheim a mother house was set up by 1384, and by 1395 the Chapter of Windesheim was able to be constituted through the addition of three sister houses, Eemstein, Mariënborn and Nieuwlicht. Others, notably St. Agnietenberg, followed soon after. If not the illuminators, who are often supposed to have worked as professionals in town centres such as Utrecht, at least both text and marginal decorations in this and related manuscripts associated with the Devotio Moderna can be documented to this constellation of fully monastic Augustinian Canons and semi-monastic Brethren and Sisters of the Common Life 7. Lieftinck and Hoogewerff have even tried to identify him with one of the priors of St. Agnietenberg, such as a Willem Vornken, prior between 1408 and 1425, on the one hand, and on the other with Henricus Mande, a pious visionary and writer of vernacular tracts, who was documented as illuminator even before entering Windesheim as chanoine in 1395. This suggestion is worthy of consideration, as will become clearer below, for at least three reasons. Firstly, this artist is more than skilled enough to be worthy of mention; secondly, as Byvanck reminds us, the chronicler of Windesheim, Buschius 8, refers to him, and to him alone 9, as both pictor (of Missals, Bibles and Choirbooks) and illuminator (of books in the library); lastly, the recorded dates fit with what has been noted as the ‘archaic’ style of the work in question.
At the same time, however, anomalies abound, for not only does this expression of a still 14th-century attachment to the refinement of International Gothic, as best illustrated by work done in Paris, - even if both the court of Guelders, and the only other court in Holland at the time, that of Albert of Bavaria in The Hague which was to employ Jan van Eyck, also echoed its influence, - mean this artist is far and away,
like his near contemporaries the Limbourg brothers, the least “Dutch” of all Dutch illuminators, it is at the same time hard to think of a more “Dutch” setting than this belated quasi- evangelical yet semi-secular monastic renewal, forerunner of the Reformation. It is a commonplace to associate Dutch work with ‘rusticity’, with the curt, plainspeaking manner of the peasant that to its opposite, the mannered refinement of a court, seems boorish 10 if not rude, and to this day the Dutch are famed for a frankness that is as legendary as their height. It is only recently that studies 12 have dragged more of the court of Guelders from fable and legend into actual history, and this miniature, if it was made in the Netherlands as seems likely, is further evidence of the high standards this court was capable of attaining 13.
The mystery is not lessened, however, by the two manuscripts that a Panofsky already associated with this artist (whom he placed in Utrecht, while being strongly influenced by the main Paris courtly style via Guelders) and which he lists as Oxford, Bodleian MS 18.392 (henceforth Clarke MS 30), and Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, MS 185, (henceforth the Doffinnes Hours), since both of these works, despite clear similarities in size and style, especially the fluency of drapery treatment, have been remarked as showing considerable differences in care of execution compared to the ‘Windesheim Hours’, whose touches a Christopher de Hamel (1997) could compare to the Boucicaut Master himself. Likewise, the refinement of the present miniature is out of the ordinary.
There exists, however, one miniature (or set of miniatures) of more or less identical size, which sheds more light on the matter, and which was kindly pointed out to me by Professor James Marrow, the preeminent scholar in this field. This is an incredibly close counterpart to the present miniature, one of a series pasted in to a copy of the Statuta Capituli Windeshemensi 14 (henceforth Brussels IV
108) and presumed to have been cut from a book of Hours as the miniatures bear no direct relation to the (later) text even if they do suggest a link with Windesheim.
There the kneeling figure of Mary, including the patterned halo and the pattern of folds, the stable and the tiled floor, the position of the Child and its mat(tress) are just short of identical, to the point that they are either by the same hand or one used the other as direct model, while the compositional differences, - the placement and depiction of Joseph (crouching, eyes shut and on the right in Brussels IV 108), the inversion of the animals feeding from a slightly different trough, and above all, the absence of shepherds in Brussels IV 108, - are circumstantial, given that the mastery of the depiction of Joseph is equal in both, and both are of exactly the same stylistic type, whose closest counterpart are many of the apostle figures of the Windesheim master.
It is remarkable that despite these overwhelming similarities there are also small differences in technique explored in more detail below, especially for the Virgin and the donkey, as well as in palette, which would allow one to argue for a different artist, even if there can be little doubt that the workshop or milieu is one and the same. For instance, though it is not possible to verify this with exactitude for the Windesheim Hours given the limitations of printed catalogue photography, the painting of the faces in this miniature reveal highlights of white and ruddy pink not used by the illuminator of Brussels IV 108 on its miniature of the Adoration, whereas such a technique is exactly that used by the illuminators of the Prayerbook of Mary of Guelders.
This unrecorded folio therefore raises new questions in this field of early Netherlandish painting, the first one of which is also one of the oldest: did the Prayerbook of Mary of
Guelders, of similar format but added to and rebound later, with one portion without miniatures now preserved in Vienna 15, once include a portion dedicated to the office of the Virgin? Or did she ever commission a separate Hours of the Virgin of which this might have been the miniature for the hour of Prime? Any answer will have to depend on much further research, for the existing miniatures in her Prayerbook to be discussed below have a small text portion underneath. Not only does their column width, the justification, not correspond exactly to the equivalent in this miniature, but paradoxically, adding text to the miniature page was much more a French or Flemish practice, while Dutch miniatures were mostly painted on single leaves withhout text and inserted separately, as this one would have been.


1 While it would be rash to assume that this study could add so much as a footnote to Panofsky’s work of that name, its object probably does. At the very least what follows is intended as a paean to that magisterial work of erudition whose judgements so often hit the mark, a work of such sure and serendipitous scholarship that its beauty matches that of the works it describes.
2 Measured by the number of booksellers per capita.
3 One could call it Buccleugh Hours, Abbey Hours, Beck Hours or Hours of whomever now owns this peerless little book. Called the ‘Cockerell Hours’ in the Beck sale catalogue of 1997, this name has also been used by Panofsky for a sister MS, Cockerell A, now Utrecht, University Library, MS 5.J.26, better known as the Kunera van Leefdael Hours after an early owner. In this discussion I will therefore give it the temporary name of ‘Windesheim Hours’ and refer to the ‘Windesheim master’. The catalogue further recounts what Cockerell had written on a flyleaf: “Dr. Byvanck told me that he knew of no manuscript of its kind and date of such high quality in Holland”. That is probably why it became the most expensive Dutch book ever sold in 1997.
4 Sotheby’s London, The Beck collection of illuminated Manuscripts, 16 June 1997, lot 20.
5 Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Preussischer Kulturbesitz, MS Germ. quo 42. This MS can now be viewed online through the efforts of Prof. Johan Oosterman at Radboud University Nijmegen.
6 To my knowledge, based on the last public exhibition at Nijmegen of 2005 and thus excluding any possible recent publications in specialist journals that are not easily accessible, no single study has yet been published on this artist, or as likely, this ‘chef d’atelier’.
7 One measure of its importance is the fact that someone who can be termed the first ‘intellectual’ in the modern sense i, - one who according to Jacques Lacan changed “our relation to the signifier” by formulating new ways of reading the Gospels, - drank from its source: Erasmus of Rotterdam.
i The term associated with him is ‘humanist’ but this is too often misleadingly used as
implying “anti-Church” as well. On the contrary, his was a ‘humanism’ in the great Christian (Catholic) sense of the term in which the “intellect” is a lamp, rather than the “man-centred” humanism associated with the ‘renaissance’ of antiquity in which the intellect is a source of pride and domination. Erasmus was a friend of More more than of Luther.
8 Buschius, Chron Windes. p. 454.: “Erat enim bonus et bene expertus librorum nostrorum illuminator, ac per annos triginta .... optimus pictor et paginator”. Byvanck’s explanation for the paucity of surviving material from Windesheim (kept in The Hague, Deventer and Brussels), in contrast to its great reputation for book production, lies in the fact that it did not work for export, unlike the semi-monastic houses.
9 One other documented instance of both terms being applied to the same artists is the Limbourg brothers.
10 It is tempting to say ‘boerish’ to show how a historical variant of this culture even became a byword for an offensive form of human interaction but that would be venturing into a history that is far more complex than this pat neologism suggests.
11 See Dante, Inferno 31: 56-58.
12 See for example the work of Gerard Nijsten.
13 This is not to detract from Episcopal Utrecht as the likely artistic capital of the Netherlands at that time, already working for itself and Albrecht’s court in The Hague in the 14th century (see also Klamt 1991).
14 Brussels, Bibliotheque Royale Albert Ier, MS IV 108, fol. 1v.
15 Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. 1908.


Swiss collection by repute


Principal Bibliography by date.

Buschius (Johannes Busch): Chronicon Windesemense and Liber de reformatione monasteriorum. [ed. Grubbe, in: Geschichtsquellen der Provinz Sachsen, XIX (Halle, 1886)]
Acquoy, J.G.R Het Klooster te Windesheim en zijn invloed, I (1875), II (1876).
Byvanck, A. W, and Hoogewerff, G.J. Noord-Nederlandsche miniaturen in handschriften der 14e, 15e en 16e eeuwen verzameld en beschreven. ‘s-Gravenhage, 1922 -1925.
De Wit, C.  Die Utrechtschen Miniaturen des 15. Jahrhunderts. Munich, 1927.
pp. 71 – 2, 98 – 103, 113.
Byvanck, A.W. ‘Les principaux manuscrits à peintures conservés dans les collections publiques du Royaume des Pays-Bas’, in: Bulletin de la Société Française de Reproduction de Manuscrits à Peintures 15 (1931), p. 1-124
Byvanck, A. W, La Miniature dans les Pays-Bas Septentrionaux, Paris, 1937.
Sterling, Charles. La Peinture Francaise. Les Primitifs. Paris 1938.
Byvanck, A. W. ‘Kroniek der Noord-Nederlandsche miniaturen, III.’, in: Oudheidkundig Jaarboek, 4th series, 9 (1940): pp. 29-41.
Sterling, Charles [Charles Jacques, pseud.]. La peinture française: les peintres du moyen âge. Paris: P. Tisné, 1941.
Panofsky, Erwin.  Early Netherlandish painting: its origins and character. Cambridge (MA), 1953.
Panofsky, Erwin. ‘Guelders and Utrecht: A Footnote on a Recent Acquisition of the Nationalmuseum at Stockholm.’, in: Konsthistorisk Tidskrift 22 (1953): 90-102, no. 12.
Miner, Dorothy. Dutch Illuminated Manuscripts in the Walters Art Gallery. Connoisseur Yearbook (1955): 66-77.
Amsterdam (exhibition and catalogue), Middeleeuwse Kunst der Noordelijke Nederlanden, Rijksmuseum 1958.
Lieftienk, G. I.: ‘Windesheim, Agnietenberg en Mariënborn en hun aandeel in de Noordnederlandse boekverluchting’, in: Dancwerc. Opstellen aangeboden aan Prof. Dr. D. Th. Enklaar. Groningen 1959, pp. 197-199.
Hoogewerff, G.J.,  ‘Gelderse miniatuurschilders in de eerste helft van de XVde eeuw’, in: Oud-Holland 76 (1961), p. 3-49.
Walters Art Gallery. The International Style: The Arts in Europe around 1400. Baltimore, 1962, pp. 71-72.
Finke, Ulrich. 1963. ‘Utrecht - Zentrum Nordniederlandischer Buchmalerei: Seine Bedeutung in der Ersten Halfte des 15. Jahrhunderts’, in:  Oud Holland 78: pp. 27 – 66.
Knaus, Hermann. ‘Windesheimer und Fraterherren, zwei Kölner Skriptorien des 15. Jahrhunderts’, in: Gutenberg-Jahrbuch vol. 41 (1966) p. 52-64. 
Meiss, Millard. French Painting in the Time of Jean de Berry: The Late Fourteenth Century and the Patronage of the Duke. New York, 1967; The Boucicaut Master (1968); The Limbourgs and their contemporaries (1974).
Meiss, Millard. The Master of the Breviary of Jean Sans Peur and the Limbourgs. 1971
Delaissé, L. M. J. A Century of Dutch Manuscript Illumination. Berkeley, 1968.
Marrow, James H.,  ‘Dutch Manuscript Illumination before the Master of Catherine of Cleves: the Master of the Morgan Infancy Cycle’, in: Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 1968, pp. 51-113.
Gorissen, Friedrich. ‘Das Stundenbuch im rheinischen Niederland’. Studien zur klevischen Musik- und Liturgiegeschichte (Beiträge zur rheinischen Musikgeschichte 75). Cologne: Volk, 1968, pp. 63-109.
Sotheby’s: Catalogue of the Celebrated Library of the late Major J. R. Abbey Tuesday, 1. December 1970 (lot 2875).
Calkins, Robert G., ‘Distribution of Labor: The Illuminators of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves and Their Workshop’, in: Transactions of the American Philosophical Society.Vol. 69, No. 5 (1979), pp. 1-83.
Boon, Karel.  ‘A Dutch missal and the emergence of a new style’, in: Westfalen vol. 55 (1977) p. 30-39.
Van Buren A.H., ‘Thoughts, old and new, on the sources of early Netherlandish painting’, in: Simiolus: kunsthistorisch tijdschrift, vol. 16, afl. 2, 1986, pp. 93-112.
Plotzek, J., Andachtsbücher des Mittelalters aus Privatbesitz: Katalog zur Ausstelling im Schnütgen-Museum. 1987. (Catalogue no. 49).
Hamburger, J.F., ‘The Casanatense missal and painting in Guelders in the early fifteenth century’, in: Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch: westdeutsches Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte, vol. 48, afl. 49, 1988, pp. 7-44.
Marrow, James H., Defoer, Henri L. M., Korteweg, Anne S. and Wüstefeld, Wilhelmina C. M.  (eds) (Exhibition Catalogue). The Golden Age of Dutch Manuscript Painting, 1989.
Marrow, James. A Descriptive and Analytical Catalogue of Dutch Illustrated Manuscripts of the 14th, 15th and 16th Century, 1989.
van der Horst, K.  & Klamt, J.C.J.A.  (eds.) Masters and miniatures: proceedings of the congress on medieval manuscript illumination in the Northern Netherlands (Utrecht, 10-13 December 1989), Doornspijk 1991.
Nijsten, G.J.M., Het hof van Gelre: cultuur ten tijde van de hertogen uit het Gulikse en Egmondse huis (1371-1473). PhD, Katholieke Universiteit Nijmegen, 1992.
Korteweg, Anne S.  (ed.) Kriezels, aubergines en takkenbossen. Randversiering in Noordnederlandse handschriften uit de vijftiende eeuw. Tentoonstellingscatalogus. Rijksmuseum Meermanno-Westreenianum/Koninklijke Bibliotheek, ‘s-Gravenhage. 1992.
Marrow, J.H., ‘Johannes de Malborch: Dutch scribe of the early 15th century’, in: Miscellanea Martin Wittek. Album de codicologie et de paléographie offert à Martin Wittek. Eds. A. Raman and E. Manning. Louvain/Paris 1993, p. 265-273.
Marrow, James H. As Horas De Margarida De Cleves. Lisboa: Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, 1995.
Wierda, L.S.  ‘Moderne devoten en hun boekproductie. Enkele observaties betreffende de boekproductie bij Windesheimers en fraters, in: Windesheim 1395-1995. Kloosters, teksten, invloeden. ed. A.J. Hendrikman, P. Bange, R.Th.M. van Dijk Nijmegen, 1996, p. 98-127.
Koenig, E. & Boespflug, F. Les Tres Belles Heures De Jean De France Duc De Barry, Paris 1998.
Avril, F., “Grands et petits maîtres,” in: Paris 1400, 2004.
Nijsten, G.J.M.  In the shadow of Burgundy: the court of Guelders in the late Middle Ages. Cambridge 2004.
Dückers, R.A.M.J.  & Roelofs, P.  (eds.) The Limbourg Brothers: Nijmegen masters at the French court (1400-1416), Exhibition: Nijmegen, Museum Het Valkhof. Catalogue: Gent 2005.
Korteweg, Anne S. ‘Framing the Issues: A Codicological Approach to Dutch Border Decoration’, in: J. F. Hamburger, A. Korteweg (eds.) Tributes in Honor of James H. Marrow Studies in Painting and Manuscript Illumination of the Late Middle Ages and Northern Renaissance, Brepols 2006.
van Bergen, W., De meesters van Otto van Moerdrecht. Een onderzoek naar stijl en iconografie van een groep miniaturisten, in relatie tot de productie van getijdenboeken in Brugge rond 1430. PhD, University of Amsterdam 2007. (Not consulted).
Bloem, Miranda. ‘Presentatio. Imitatio. Innovatio. The imitation and correction of a corrupt pictorial tradition the Masters of Zweder van Culemborg’, in: Medieval art in the Northern Netherlands. New fact and features. Congresbundel 75 jaar na Hoogewerff : een inventarisatie van onderzoek naar Noord-Nederlandse kunst, Clavis/Matrijs, 2014.

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