The Hours of Catherine of Cleves is the greatest Dutch illuminated manuscript in the world. Its 157 miniatures are by the gifted Master of Catherine of Cleves (active ca. 1435–60), who is named after this book. The Master of Catherine of Cleves is considered the finest and most original illuminator of the medieval northern Netherlands, and this manuscript is his masterpiece.
This digital facsimile provides reproductions of all 157 miniatures (and facing text pages) from the Hours of Catherine of Cleves. The original one-volume prayer book had been taken apart in the nineteenth century; the leaves were shuffled and then rebound into two confusing volumes. This presentation offers the miniatures in their original, fifteenth-century sequence.
The manuscript was commissioned by Catherine as prayer book. It contains an amazingly rich series of devotions illustrated with especially elaborate suites of miniatures.
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.
The 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 sided with her son, suspecting that her husband molested their only son. These allegations started a big scandal in the duchy. Catherine demanded freedom for her and the children along with their share of the inheritance. Arnold categorically denied the charges and flatly refused to give in to Catherine’s demands. The cities of Nijmegen, Zutphen and Arnhem supported Catherine and her son while Roermond sided with the duke. In 1465, Catherine and her son conspired to imprison Arnold and forced him to abdicate. Adolf, becoming the duke upon inheriting the duchy, spent six years in ceaseless struggles with his father’s supporters.
In 1471, Catherine watched in horror as Arnold secured his freedom and regained his title, imprisoning Adolf in turn. Arnold died in 1473, disinheriting both his wife and their son. Catherine’s death in 1476 robbed her of seeing the release of her son. Adolf’s liberty was short-lived for he died the very next year.
Now back to the Book. Master of Catherine of Cleves possessed a remarkable sense of observation. Combined with an interest in everyday objects it created a style far ahead of its time. It would come to fruition only in seventeenth-century Dutch still-life painting. Narrative was also one of the great talents of the artist — he could tell a good story.
The subjects of the images in Horologion vary from religious to secular with an great number of illuminations depicting Hell and Devil in different guises. This is all the more surprising since, as a rule, Hell was never depicted in women’s Horologions. The reason of such an unusual iconography in Catherine’s Horologion defies explanation.
The Book is also famous for the artist’s innovative borders, no two of which are alike.