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Medieval Manuscript Leaves: Breviary, circa 1400 AD

This guide provides information about the eight Medieval Manuscript Leaves held by NIU Libraries Rare Book Room.

Catalogue Description

140. VERY DECORATIVE LEAVES FROM A BREVIARY IN LATIN. (Northern France, ca. 1400) 3 3/4 x 2 3/4". Single column, 17 lines, in at least two regular and quite attractive gothic book hands, one slightly thicker. Four groups of leaves from a sizable fragment: (1) leaves with rubrics in red and/or an occasional modest initial painted in red or blue; (2) leaves with several one-line initials in burnished gold on a blue and maroon ground with white tracery; (3) the same, but also with at least one similar two-line initial from which emanates a border of flowers and gold ivy leaves on wispy tendrils, sometimes the border extending the full length of the margin, and sometimes with full-length borders in the facing margin, and sometimes with full-length borders in the facing margin and /or on the opposite side of the leaf; (4) the same as the previous, but with broader tendrils in pink and white sprouting ivy leaves of orange, blue, and white as well as gold; and (5) very decorative leaves WITH A LARGE AND more ELABORATE INITIAL (usually four-line) in several colors on a burnished gold ground, the initial usually with a bar border of gold, blue, and white, and always ACCOMPANIED BY A LOVELY AND INTRICATE THREE-QUARTER OR FULL BORDER of flowers and ivy leaves in several colors and gold. 

Most of the three-quarter and full borders slightly trimmed along the top and trimmed close on some of the other edges, otherwise only trivial defects, and generally IN FINE, CLEAN, BRIGHT CONDITION. 

These leaves present a wonderful combination of charm and beauty: the hands of the scribes are pleasing (so even the undecorated leaves are attractive), the decoration is executed with considerable skill, and the pages are uniformly bright and clean. This item represents one of the best values for the money of any leaves offered in our catalogues in recent years. 

Phillip J. Pirages Fine Books and Manuscripts. “140. VERY DECORATIVE LEAVES FROM A BREVIARY IN LATIN. ” Phillip J. Pirages Catalogue 47, 1992.

Breviary, circa 1400 A.D.


A decorative leaf from a Breviary in Latin dating to around 1400 A.D. from Northern France is shown above. A breviary is a book of the daily Divine Office in the Catholic Church, used primarily by priests. It contains the texts used for funerals and saints' days, but not the Mass or Communion services.( 6) This example, given its minute size, was probably intended  for lay use. 

The large blank space above the text is unusual. It indicates that an illumination was planned but never executed. ( 7)