Books of Hours are compendiums of devotional texts designed for the laity to use in private prayer. At their centre is a series of prayers and psalms known as ‘The Hours of the Virgin’, to be recited daily at set ‘hours’ to aid salvation. Books of Hours were extremely popular throughout the Middle Ages and more were produced than any other type of book. Many were personalised and lavishly illuminated to the further glory of God. This combined Book of Hours and Psalter boasts eighteen full page pictures on single leaves, painted separately and inserted into the completed volume at the beginnings of major sections of text. The border decoration of the pictures is matched on the facing page in a single unified design; the unstinting use of incised gold leaf truly illuminates the text.
The miniature depicts monks singing in choir. The second text is appropriately that of Psalm 96, ‘Sing to the Lord a new song: sing to the Lord, all the earth’. By the Fourteenth Century, complex polyphonic settings had extended to all sung parts of the Mass resulting in the music usually being left to the choir, who sang on behalf of those present. The difficulties of this outstanding music required an ability to read musical notation, as intimated by this illustration.
The other illustrations are also from the psalter section of the volume. That on folio 156v is set before Psalm 52 (‘The fool said in his heart: There is no God’) and that on folio 168v refers to Psalm 68 (‘I am come into the depth of the sea: and a tempest hath overwhelmed me’).