Miniature of St Luke painting the Virgin and Child, from the Hours of Joanna I of Castile (Joanna the Mad), southern Netherlands (Ghent?), c 1500, Additional MS 35313, f. 12v
Our recent on-line publication of the fabulous Hours illuminated by a pair of Ghent artists, the Master of James IV of Scotland and the Master of the First Prayerbook of Maximilian, prompted me to have a closer look at this manuscript associated with my famous namesake (Additional MS 35313; see here for the fully-digitised manuscript). With its double opening of full-page miniatures preceding prayers for each canonical hour and the profusion of gold and colours, the manuscript was fit for royal eyes, but was it really made for the mad Castilian Queen Joanna? The evidence is somewhat circumstantial. The presence of two Saint Johns, the Evangelist and the Baptist in the Calendar, Litany and Suffrages, Joanna’s natural patrons (the name Joanna is a female version of the name John) is prominent but hardly exceptional.
Detail of a miniature of St John the Evangelist, from the Hours of Joanna I of Castile (Joanna the Mad), southern Netherlands (Ghent?), c 1500, Additional MS 35313, f. 211v
Detail of a miniature of St John the Baptist, from the Hours of Joanna I of Castile (Joanna the Mad), southern Netherlands (Ghent?), c 1500, Additional MS 35313, f. 212v
It is the inclusion
of a number of Spanish saints in the Litany that situates the Hours among books
commissioned for or by members of the Spanish court. The saints' list includes
the two early Christian martyrs Emeterius and Celedonius (see below), venerated at the
royal foundation at Santander.
Among the confessors, there are two Visigothic bishops, Ildephonsus of Toledo
and Isidore of Seville, and a saint hardly venerated outside the Iberian
Peninsula, St Adelelmus of Burgos, who replaced the Mozarabic rite in Léon and Castile with
the Roman liturgy. Finally, among the virgins are included St Marina and St Quiteria who,
according to a Portuguese legend, were sisters from Bayona (Pontevedra). But is
it a proof of Joanna's ownership of the book?
Detail of a list of saints in the Litany, including Emeterius and Celedonius, from the Hours of Joanna I of Castile (Joanna the Mad), southern Netherlands (Ghent?), c 1500, Additional MS 35313, f. 150r
The manuscript includes one more piece of
evidence that makes this hypothesis possible, but this time the evidence is
iconographic. The Hours of the Dead opens with an unusual image (see below). The
illustration of the encounter between the Three Living and the Three Dead, a
moralizing tale built around a popular late-medieval theme of the memento mori ('Be mindful of death', or more commonly, 'Remember you will die'),
features a woman on horseback chased by skeletons armed with long arrows. The
woman holds a hawk on her arm and two greyhounds run alongside her horse, suggesting
that the attack takes place during a hunt.
Detail of a miniature of the Three Living and the Three Dead, from the Hours of Joanna I of Castile (Joanna the Mad), southern Netherlands (Ghent?), c 1500, Additional MS 35313, f. 158v
The miniature has a
likely model in the Book of Hours that once belonged to Mary of Burgundy and her
husband Archduke Maximilian (now Berlin,
Kupferstichkabinett MS 78 B 12, f. 220v). Elfried Bok, a German scholar of the Netherlandish
art, was the first to notice that the female rider in the Berlin Hours might be
Mary herself (her initials 'MM' are on her horse's harness), and that the
miniature, which was a later insertion, might refer to her sudden death after a
riding accident whilst falconing with her husband in 1482.
Another possibility is however even more
attractive. The Dowager Princess of Asturias
might have commissioned the book after her return to the Netherlands in
1500 as a gift to her Spanish sister-in-law Joanna of Castile. Joanna, sister
of Margaret's deceased husband John, married Margaret's brother Philip I, known
as the Handsome, the ruler of the Burgundian Netherlands, in another political
match. Joanna was Spanish and her devotion to native saints would explain their
presence in the litany. On the other hand, the striking allusion to Mary of
Burgundy’s tragic accident in the Hours of the Dead would have appeal to her
husband's family memory.