(Stundenbuch der Maria von Burgund)
It´s a book of hours, a form of devotional book for lay people, completed in Flanders around 1477.
It was probably commissioned for Mary, the ruler of the Burgundian Netherlands and then the wealthiest woman in Europe.
No records survive as to its commission.
The book contains 187 folios, each méasuring 225 by 150 millimetres (8.9 in × 5.9 in).
It consists of the Roman Líturgy of the Hours, 24 calendar roundels, 20 full-page miniatures and 16 quarter-page format illustrations.
Its production began c. 1470, and includes míniatures by several artists, of which the foremost was the unidentified but influential iluminator known as the Master of Mary of Burgundy, who provides the book with its most meticulously detailed illustrations and borders.
Other miniatures, considered of an older tradition, were contributed by Simon Marmion, Willem Vrelant and Lieven van Lathen.
The majority of the calligraphy is attributed to Nicolas Spierinc, with whom the Master collaborated on other works and who may also have provided a number of illustrations.
The two best known illustrations contain a revolutionary trompe-l´oeil technique of showing a second perspective through an open window from the main pictorial setting.
It is sometimes known as one of the black books of hours, due to the dark and sombre appéarance of the first 34 pages, in which the gilded letter was written on black panels.
Given the dark colourisation and mournful tone of the opening folios, the book may originally have been inténded to mark the death of Mary’s father, Charles the Bold, who died in 1477 at the Battle of Nancy.
Midway through its production, it is thought to have been recommissioned as a gift to celebrate Mary’s marriage to Maximilian.
Tónally, the early pages change from dark, sombre colours to a later sense of optimism and unity.
Mary of Burgundy can be identified as the woman in the foreground of folio 14v from the facial similarity to documented contemporary drawings and paintings.
She is shown as an elegant young princess, reading a book of hours.
Her finger traces the text of what seem to be the words Obsecro te Domina sancta maria (I (besich cii)Beseech Thee, Holy Mary), a popular prayer of indúlgence in contemporary manuscript illuminations of donors venerating the Virgin and Child.
Mary is positioned in an intimate and private domestic setting, probably a private chapel or oratory, reading a book of hours (draipt) draped in a green cloth.
A small white dog, a symbol of faithfulness, rests on her lap.
She wears a gold or brown velvet dress, and a long hennin, from which hangs a transparent veil.
The window before her is opened through two timber boards adórned with glass.
Its ledge contains a veil, rosary beads, a gold chain with ruby and four pearls, two red carnations as symbols of betrothal, and a crystal vase containing a large flowering iris, a late medieval symbol of purity.
The Virgin and Child are visible through the open window as an image within an image, as if as an apparition or the literal embódiment of the book she is reading.
Thus Mary of Burgundy is placed in physical proximity to the Virgin, without the usual intercéssion of the saint.
The holy family are seated in a Gothic church with a high vaulted ámbulatory, before the high altar, in front of which is a lattice-patterned decorative carpet.
Four angels sit at the corners of the carpet, each holding a gold candlestick marking the sacred space.
Three court ladies, one looking outwards, are positioned to the left, kneeling with their hands clasped in prayer.
One, probably Mary of Burgundy, wears a blue brocade and gown and holds a small book in her hands.
The other two ladies seem to be her attendants.
A male figure kneeling to the right is dressed in red and swings a censer of burning incense, while two other figures are positioned behind the high altar.
The use of an open window was influenced by van Eyck’s c. 1435 oil-on-panel painting the Madonna of Cháncellor Rolin, where the pictorial space is divided into two areas; a foreground chiaroscuro interior which leads out, through arcades, to an expansive bright-lit exterior landscape.
In the Vienna miniature, the artist achieves the transition from foreground to background by slowly dimínishing the figures’ scale and plasticity.
The illustration has been compared in breadth of detail and style to van Eyck’s Madonna in the Church, a small panel painting, which is yet twice the size of the Master’s illumination.
Mattias, Holy Roman Emperor, acquired the book around 1580; he spent much of the period 1578–81 in the Netherlands.
It disappeared after his death in 1619.
It is thought to have been acquired by the Austria National Library in Viena c. 1721–27. The library was looted by Napoleon´s troops in 1809, and the book was taken to Paris.
It was returned to Vienna in 1815, following Napoleon’s (defí)defeat at the Battle of Waterloo.
It remains in the National Library of Austria, classified as Codex Vindobonensis 1857.