Skip to content Skip to navigation

Horae Beatae Mariae Virginis, cum calendario, Books of Hours

Horae Beatae Mariae Virginis, cum calendario, Books of Hours

Horae Beatae Mariae Virginis, cum calendario        

Possibly French, 15th century. 19 x 14.5 cm. Binding: 16th century, probably Lyonese; calf, gilt decoration of scrolls and arabesques with a background of gold stars and green leaf ornaments; edges gilt and gauffred; tooled cornerpieces.  Bookplate: Library of the Honble George A.P.H. Duncan. Previous owner, George Alexander Philips Haldane Duncan, Earl of Camperdown (1845-1933). Gift of George Alexander Philips Haldane Duncan, Earl of Camperdown, 1934.

The Boston Athenæum owns few complete medieval manuscripts, and most are probably late medieval examples, created after the advent of printing by moveable type. One owned by our first cataloger, the Rev. Joseph McKean (1776-1818), was an early sixteenth-century manuscript on vellum with illuminations. Another, whose scribe was a nun, may possibly date as early as the first half of the fifteenth century, and was a gift from the Rev. Joseph Towne (1805-1897) in 1837. An illuminated manuscript, possibly from the fifteenth century and unfortunately incomplete, was presented to the Athenæum by Obadiah Rich (1777-1850), who arranged for the purchase of a great number of books for the Library. Shelved in our safe, all of these were Books of Hours, the most common genre of the late Middle Ages. Books of Hours were prayer books intended for the laity, and so-called because their contents were arranged according to the eight canonical hours of the day when monks gathered for prayer. By the late Middle Ages there was an increased desire among the laity to express devotion privately, and those merchants and aristocrats who could afford lavishly illuminated Books of Hours purchased them for use at home.

George Alexander Philips Haldane Duncan, Earl of Camperdown (1845-1933), pictured in this photograph taken by Florence Maynard about 1920, became a Proprietor in 1915. An avid collector and long-time Boston resident, he left the Library a large donation of over 4,600 books, including a work by the so-called Spanish Forger (see cat. no. 49), a few pieces of furniture, various frames and art work, as well as the clock now behind the circulation desk. Among the thousands of books was Horae Beatae Mariae Virginis, cum calendario, a beautifully illuminated Book of Hours. The Annunciation pictured in the double-page spread shows the moment from the Gospel of Luke when the Angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will be the mother of Jesus. We see Mary in a moment of quiet contemplation, praying with an open book before her, most likely a Book of Hours similar to the one displayed here.           

According to his obituary in the New York Timeson December 6, 1933, the Earl stayed in Boston because of his strong affinity for certain local charities. He had assumed his title in 1918 but refused the inheritance in favor of a younger relative. He also must have remained because of his wife, Laura Dove Blanchard Duncan (d. 1910), a Bostonian whom he married in 1888, just after he left the engineering firm of Maudslay Sons & Field. In fact, it was Laura Duncan who, in 1906, walked into Ludwig Rosenthal’s Antiquariat in Munich and purchased the Book of Hours that would eventually come to the Athenæum. The receipt was made out to the Honorable Mrs. Duncan, but whether she chose the book or merely picked it up, we do not know. Ludwig Rosenthal’s Antiquariat was a well-known seller of rare books with a specialization in medieval manuscripts and books. Founded in 1859, the firm continues to carry on the family tradition today, but in the Netherlands.[1]

The Athenæum’s Book of Hours contains the Camperdown bookplate, tipped in front. It shows the Camperdown coat of arms with the mottoes Disce pati (“learn to suffer”) and Secundis dubiisque rectus (“firm in every fortune”). Tipped in the back are the receipt and description of the book. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Ludwig Rosenthal’s Antiquariat had undertaken more scholarly descriptions of its offerings and had determined that the book had a Lyonese binding and that the scribe was French; however, the gauffred edges also suggested a sixteenth-century German binding.[2] Mrs. Duncan paid 3,800 marks, after a five percent discount (approximately $950), for this brilliant manuscript.

Mary E. Warnement, from, Stanley Ellis Cushing and David B. Dearinger, eds., Acquired Tastes: 200 Years of Collecting for the Boston Athenæum (2006): 68-70. Copyright © The Boston Athenæum.

[1] Bernard M. Rosenthal, “Cartel, Clan, or Dynasty? The Olschkis and the Rosenthals, 1859-1976,” Harvard Library Bulletin 25 (1977): 384, 392-393.
[2] Matt Roberts and Don Etherington, Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1982), 114.