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Image and Meaning in the Floral Borders of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves


Via / By Elizabeth R. Schaeffer

Master’s Thesis,  Eastern Illinois University, 1987

Introduction: The Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, produced in the Netherlands in the early 15th century, is one of the most beautiful and complex manuscripts of the late Middle Ages. The Master’s remarkable originality in his choice and depiction of imagery in the borders of this manuscript has been the focus of much of the literature on the manuscript. Equally inventive is his symbolic use of the floral images in these borders, yet little has been made of this subject. An understanding of the meaning of these floral border images is, however, important to a complete understanding of the manuscript. Of particular interest are the realistic flowers seen in the borders of the illuminations of the first quarter of the manuscript—the Hours of the Virgin and the Hours of the Cross. These realistic floral images will be the focus of this paper.

The method the Master used to select and depict the realistic floral images in the borders of the Hours of the Virgin and the Hours of the Cross shows evidence of the influence of the Devotio Moderna, a vital philosophical movement in the Netherlands of the late Middle Ages having a strong influence on the culture within which the Master worked. I will structure this study of the Master’s use of floral symbolic imagery on three of the tenets of this philosophy.

Three tenets of the Devotio Moderna in particular are in accord with the Master’s choice of plant forms and his use of them as symbols in the border. The first tenet is the value of study of the immediate physical world as a means of understanding God’s will. Accordingly, the Master looked to the immediate world to find his models for the images of recognizable plant forms seen in his borders.

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