The Murthly Hours: Devotion, Literacy, and Luxury in Paris, England, and the Gaelic West

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The Murthly Hours consists of two parts: a book of hours of the end of the thirteenth century preceded by twenty-three slightly earlier miniatures of Old and New Testament scenes surviving from another book, probably a psalter. It is therefore one of the earliest books of hours, written before the greater standardization of text and decoration during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The book was a special commission and reflects the interests and devotions of its first owner, a lady apparently from the Worcester area whose portrait appears in one of the initials. The choice of feasts in the calendar and the choice of saints invoked in the litany reflects the owner's taste. They show how the book was used and can tell us something about secular devotions and literacy among the aristocracy in England and the West of Scotland in the later Middle Ages. The book also contains the second oldest surviving pieces of Gaelic which can be said with certainty to have been written in Scotland rather than in Ireland. They were written phonetically by someone not trained to write Gaelic and one piece has been identified as a form of charm.

John Higgitt recounts the provenance of this magnificent work of medieval art and its recent rediscovery and purchase by the National Library of Scotland. He discusses the writing, decoration, and style of illumination and the particular influence of the Paris school on the manuscript artists. The author presents the first interpretive study which will be of interest to historians of art, liturgy, and medieval literacy.

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Editorial Reviews

The 13th-century Murthly Hours are unusual among medieval manuscripts in that we are fairly certain, based on Higgitt's careful research, of their provenance and later history, and because they have survived fairly intact to the present day. Higgitt (fine art, U. of Edinburgh) has written a study that sets a high standard for manuscript history in its breadth and detail, with chapters devoted to the expected topics of the manuscript's codicology, paleography, and illumination, but also including broader historical subjects exemplified by the manuscript's history, such as illumination in France, England and Scotland; how illuminated books of hours were used; and trends in devotion and literacy. High-quality illustrations accompany the text, which also comes with a CD-ROM of the manuscript. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802047595
  • Publisher: University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division
  • Publication date: 1/16/2001
  • Series: British Library Studies in Medieval Culture Series
  • Edition description: BK&CD-ROM
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 7.29 (w) x 9.99 (h) x 1.16 (d)

Meet the Author

John Higgitt is Lecturer in Fine Art at the University of Edinburgh.
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Table of Contents

List of Colour Plates
List of Illustrations
List of Tables
Ch. 1 Introduction 1
Ch. 2 The Origins and History of the Murthly Hours from the Thirteenth Century to the Present 5
Ch. 3 The Writing and Decoration of the Book of Hours 48
Ch. 4 The Murthly Hours and Illumination in France and England during the Second Half of the Thirteenth Century 102
Ch. 5 Meanings and Diversions in the Decoration of the Book of Hours 131
Ch. 6 Devotion and Literacy: the Murthly Hours and the Early Book of Hours in England and France 165
Ch. 7 The Full-Page Miniatures 194
Ch. 8 The Murthly Hours and the Illuminated Manuscript in Medieval Scotland 277
Ch. 9 Conclusion 284
Appendix 1 Collation 289
Appendix 2 The Ruling 305
Appendix 3 The Calendar of the Murthly Hours 306
Appendix 4 The Original Contents of the Murthly Hours 312
Appendix 5 Later Additions in Latin and French 331
Appendix 6 Later Additions in Gaelic (Transcription, Translation and Commentary by Ronald Black) 336
Appendix 7 Calendar Fragment found under the Paste-Down (MS 21000 A) 346
Appendix 8 The Decoration of the Bas-de-page: a Survey of Subjects 348
Index 353
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