The University of Kansas Libraries
Vosper Hours, Langres, France, ca. 1450-1475.
A Book of Hours is a compendium of prayers and devotional texts. Its title comes from the central text of the book, the Hours of the Virgin (parvum officium beatae Virginis Mariae). The book is organized by hours indicating which prayers, hymns, psalms, lessons, etc., are to be recited at a particular hour. It is strictly a work of private devotion owned by a layperson, and was not a part of the public liturgy. As such it was beyond canonical control, and Books of Hours showed great variety in the addition of supplemental texts and in the extent of decoration and illumination. A Book of Hours was often the only book to be found in a literate household in fifteenth-century France and often formed the basis for instruction in reading, particularly for girls.
The Vosper Hours (named for Robert Vosper, Director of Libraries at KU when the manuscript was acquired in 1958) contains clues to its origin. Most of the extra saints added to the litany are from Eastern France and in particular several are localized to Langres in the Champaign region. Unfortunately, the identity of the individual who commissioned this sumptuous book is unknown, but it must have been a person of stature and wealth, for no one else could afford such an expensive book. It was produced in a workshop devoted to the luxury trade by a team of craftsmen, each of whom had his own specialization. First the quires of vellum were prepared and ruled in red, then a scribe took a quire and copied the main text in black, then another scribe took the quire and supplied the rubrication or writing in red (and other colors too). Next, the decoration was applied. This involved elaborate boarders and initials. Finally an artist produced the miniatures or paintings. Often derived from patterns, the artist first drew his image, then applied gold leaf over gesso, and then finally applied the paint. The result was a stunningly beautiful book that continues to enchant all who turn its pages to this day.
University of Kansas, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, Department of Special Collections, Pryce MS C1