Posts Tagged 'UWA-P1-annotation'

A Book of Hours and the State Library of Victoria

This isn’t one of my would-be-academic posts. I’ve been on a little emotional roller-coaster – let me take you on a journey…


Horae B.M.V. : illuminated ms. on vellum
Paris ca. 1490
State Library of Victoria

Not too long ago (22-June-2013) I wrote an annotatation on an illumination from a Book of Hours and included the comment that it was on exhibition and I might be able to see it if I got to Melbourne in the next few months. Last week I made an opportunity to go to Melbourne. Off the flight, bags left at hotel, straight to the library, up to the Mirror of the World exhibition, raced around it – and the book wasn’t there.

Deep breath (or two or three). This time I went around slowly and carefully. It’s a small book, I could have missed it…

It still wasn’t there.

This time I had to sit down while I took a few more breaths. All wasn’t lost – I had big plans for things to see at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV – more on that another post). But I should check – perhaps I’d made a mistake and The Book was in a different exhibition. I went down to the Information Desk and was probably fairly incoherent (it had been a 4:00 am start after all), and at one point I had the library website open on my phone while the librarian helping me was searching through their system and two of his colleagues were brought into the conversation. Eventually we concluded that The Book had been in the exhibition but had now been rotated out. They explained that The Book was all digitized and available on the web (, and I agreed that it is a wonderful resource and I’d used it and appreciated it, and I was just hoping to see the book itself because you get the scale and the colour and the reality of it.

The librarian’s next question took me quite a while and a few repetitions to understand and I still find it hard to believe. Would I like them to request it from storage? It was too late for the deliveries that day, but perhaps sometime tomorrow? I went into incoherent mode again, but eventually got out that I would like that very much. So the librarian filled in a little form and took my phone number. It was still a little unclear exactly where The Book was and whether any of this would actually happen. So I went off to spend some happy hours with Poussin and Rembrandt (more later!) and tried not to expect too much.

The next morning I got a phone call from Des, a librarian in the Rare Books area. When would I like to come in? We settled on 3:00 pm, and after another happy few hours at NGV I arrived only half an hour early, and managed just enough patience to last until 2:55 before going in.

SLVBookOfHours_visitThe photo on the left was taken at 3:23 pm. The hand in that white glove is mine. I still feel a mixture of wonder and disbelief and excitement and breathlessness and just the smallest tinge of nausea. What an incredible privilege.

Des had met me at the front security desk and we had a pleasant chat walking through to the Rare Books area off the Redmond Barry Reading Room (thinking back I think Des collected quite a bit of information about my background and interest in the manuscript – not vetting as such, but perhaps reassurance that I was OK despite chronic episodic verbal dysfunction (aka incoherence)). Our destination was a secure area, and just inside was a large table with book pillow and white gloves laid out ready, plus a small box.

SLV_Box1SLV_Box2I’ve taken a couple of photos of the box because of a strong feeling that some day I’ll be making a work based on it. Aged Care, my final work for Textiles 1: A Creative Approach, used a container in a very claustrophobic trapped sort of way (see 20-May-2013 and 16-Feb-2013). I would love to make a different kind of container, one full of treasures and wonders.

SLV_BookClosedHere is The Book, sitting on its pillow. The binding is 19th century, not original, and the gilt edges of the pages would also have been added by a collector at some point. Des also photocopied some pages with more information about The Book (Manion, M. and Vines V. (1984) Medieval and renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts in Australian collections. (Melbourne: Thames and Hudson)) which has just led me on some delightful internet searching, through Rogier van der Weyden and back to another painting I saw in Melbourne at the NGV (see

Des left me alone with the book. I could turn the pages and look as long as I liked at whatever I liked (being careful of the tight binding). I have no words to describe seeing and holding and leafing through that little book. Everything was more so – the book was smaller than I expected, the pages firmer, the lettering crisp and clear, the ink a beautiful translucent colour, the diacritical marks dancing on the page, such smooth variation in line width, and the actual illuminations – colour so vibrant and solid, lines so fine, the flush on the Virgin’s cheek, her pale skin and Joseph’s swarthy colouring… Well, perhaps I have lots of words, all inadequate.

reading_room_slvBefore moving on, a quick look at the library’s domed reading room, which is celebrating its centenary this year. The library was founded in 1854 and was one of the first free public libraries anywhere. There was a lovely quote on a poster in the foyer (bad me – was busy being nervous and didn’t write it down) along the lines that any respectable person could use the library – they didn’t need a coat, just clean hands. Des told me they used to have a wash basin ready at the entrance.

UA1-WA:P1-p3-Ex Annotation of a Gothic image

For this exercise I have chosen a manuscript illumination from a Book of Hours as my subject. Given I am limited to working from images from a book or the internet I prefer to avoid three dimensional works. Reasons for my particular choice include: I find it interesting and beautiful; it includes details suggesting pointed architecture; there are oddities of perspective; the book is held in an Australian collection and in a current exhibition, so I may be able to see it if I can get to Melbourne in the next few months; high quality images are available on the internet with no copyright restrictions.

Title: Horae B.M.V. : illuminated ms. on vellum.
Publisher: Paris
Date(s): ca.1490
Current location: State Library of Victoria
Persistent link:
Page chosen: Folio 23v. Matins – The Annunciation (image 56)

In the chosen image a frame with features of classical buildings creates a stage. Front right Mary, kneeling at a prie dieu, turns at an interruption to her prayers. Front left an angel speaks to her. Rays of golden light stream in on Mary, a white bird hovers above. In the background is a bed to the right, an open window to the left, and some detailing (including pointed arches) which could be architectural or furniture such as a wardrobe behind. Below is a label with text in latin. The colours are rich – blues, scarlet, green, yellow, mauve, browns, white, with touches of gold throughout. There are shadows and moulding of shapes, using both tones of colour and hatching in grey and gold.

The illumination shows the Annunciation, described in the Gospel according to Saint Luke. God sent the angel Gabriel to the virgin Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph. Gabriel told Mary, who was at first deeply disturbed, that she had God’s favour. She would conceive and bear a son, Jesus. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God” (Luke 1:35).

The scene is rich with imagery. The Annunciation had great doctrinal importance in the Catholic church, and the three essential elements are displayed – the angel, the Virgin and the dove of the Holy Spirit. Garlands and flowers show it is Spring (northern hemisphere), nine months before the Nativity. Mary, devout, has been reading from an open book, according to St Bernard the prophecy of Isaiah which is being fulfilled in Mary at this moment. Her dress is blue, a colour symbolic of heaven. God the Father is not shown, but implied by the golden rays. Gabriel is winged, in part wears the traditional white, and hold a scepter (which may be tipped with fleur-de-lys, his symbol). Both Mary and Gabriel have halos, symbolising sanctity. The lilies below refer to Mary’s purity (1). The pristine bed suggests the virgin birth (2). The dove is quite unlike any I have seen before – I don’t know if there is any significance in this.

This is one page of a Book of Hours which has 125 leaves including 15 large and 17 small miniatures. A Book of Hours was produced for lay men and women, a prayer book to guide their private devotions. Although the contents could vary, including a religious calendar, gospel readings, penitential psalms and an Office for the Dead, the core was the Hours of the Virgin. The “hours” were eight periods of prayer throughout the day, from pre-dawn Matins to late evening Compline. Each was associated with an event in the life of the Virgin Mary, the Annunciation being linked to Matins. Although details varied by place and time, the text here seems to be the general standard:
Domine labia mea aperies. Thou O Lord wilt open my lips.
Et os meum annunciabit laudem tuam. And my mouth shall declare thy praise.
Deus in adiutorium meum [intende.] Incline unto my aid O God. (3)

These books were so popular they have been called the “best sellers” of the Medieval age. They could be made for a specific patron, or on an effective production line for a large market. It has been suggested that this particular example was a typical workshop product, made for a lady given its “elegant appearance and dainty size” (5) (based on scale photographs it is just under 15 cm high).

The Metropolitan Museum of Art - Hours of Francis IIt is interesting to compare my chosen image with a very similar one from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (copied within their terms of use given no advertisements or sales on this personal blog). This is Hours of Francis I by Master of François de Rohan (French, Paris, active ca. 1525–1546), date 1539–40. (6) This book was made for King Francis I (1494–1547). The framed “stage set” of the two versions is very similar, as is the placement of the major figures and items – Mary, Gabriel, the dove, the window and rays of light, the bed, as well as the block of text. Even the flower in the illuminated D seems to be the same. However the royal book is much finer and more detailed, and includes additional items such as God the Father and banners of text. I think the lady who may first have owned the subject Book of Hours would have ranked somewhere below royalty and the high nobility, possibly an urban bourgeois wife but still above the town burghers who might have a version with text but no miniatures (7).

matins_perspectiveI mentioned oddities of perspective earlier, and here have tried to highlight different lines apparent in the image. The space is not really convincing, the bed about to slide into the foreground. Perspective is a Research Point in the next project, so I hope to come back to this at some point.

This exercise has opened my eyes to some wonderful resources on the internet. Many institutions have programs to digitise and make available their precious collections. One that I particularly enjoyed was a comparison tool from Harvard University, which allows easy viewing of ten different Books of Hours – (Picturing Prayer: Books of Hours in Houghton Library, Harvard University). All of their examples are quite different to the two I have shown above.

(1) Hall, J. (2008) Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art (Second Edition). Boulder: Westview Press.
(2) The Courtauld Institute of Art [n.d.] Pesellino: The Annunciation Diptych [online] Available at [Accessed 22 June 2013]
(3) Translation from Gunhouse, G. [n.d.] A Hypertext Book of Hours [online] Available at [Accessed 21 June 2013]
(4) The J. Paul Getty Museum (2002) The Medieval Bestseller: Illuminated Books of Hours [online] Available at [Accessed 21 June 2013]
(5) Vines, V. (1993) “The Daily Round, the Common Task” Three Books of Hours in the State Library of Victoria The La Trobe Journal No 51 & 52 1993 [online] Available from [Accessed 20 June 2013]
(6) The Metropolitan Museum of Art [n.d.] Hours of Francis I [online] Available from [Accessed 21 June 2013]
(7) Hale, R. (2010) Books of Hours at the Ransom Center; Inside a Book of Hours; and Three hundred years of Hours—at a glance Harry Ransom Centre, The University of Texas at Austin [online]. Available at;; [Accessed 22 June 2013]

Additional Reading
Clement, R. (1997) “Medieval and Renaissance book production” Library Faculty & Staff Publications Utah State University. [online] Available at: [Accessed 21 June 2013]

UA1-WA:P1-p3-Ex Annotation of a Gothic image
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part one: Classical and religious art.
Project three: Religious art
Exercise: Annotation of a Gothic image

UA1-WA:P1-p1-Ex Annotation of a Greek vase painting

My chosen vase is in the Alexander The Great: 2000 years of treasures exhibition currently on at the Australian Museum in Sydney. I posted about my first visit to the exhibition on 8-Feb-2013.

The catalogue entry:
Red-figure volute-krater: warrior with a horse in a heroon
Southern Italy, Apulia, 330-320 BC
Master of the Seated Woman Group
Clay; h 72.2, 0 rim 37.8, 0 base 11.4 cm

The photos in the post are my sketches. I can’t find an image on the web, but for something similar click here to go to a page on the British Museum website showing The Hamilton Vase. (Edited to add: a copy of the image is available in a password restricted area here).

Reason for choice
sketch20130208bOn the left of this photo is the sketch I did of the chosen vase back in February, when I was still working through the final assignment for Textiles 1: A Creative Approach. I found it refreshing to look at a woman, resplendent in jewels and leaning languidly on a pillar, after all the heroic, idealized male statues busy doing something important.

I chose this vase for the annotation because I already had a connection to it, could do my initial work based on the photograph in the exhibition catalogue, and would have the opportunity to see the vase itself again before the exhibition closed. The OCA course notes include a reminder that looking at an image – a reproduction – can give you a sense for the original, but is not the same as experiencing the item directly. Choosing this vase would allow me to experience the impact of the original when my work from the image was still fresh in my mind.

After working on this for some time I realised (a) the vase is from Italy and a Greek item was specified for the exercise, and (b) the date of the vase put it slightly later than covered in the course textbook section for this project, which stops with the death of Philip of Macedon, Alexander’s father, in 336 BC. I continued with the vase because the catalogue notes associate it with Greek colonies in Italy, the timing issue is marginal, and as detailed above I had solid reasons for the selection.
The vase is large – over 72 cm high. Handles on each side connect the rim to the shoulders. The tops of the handles form a coil or medallion shape above the main part of the vase. In my eyes the base seems almost disproportionally small making the vase appear top-heavy and possibly unstable.
Arrangement of painting
The vase has patterned bands – waves, tongues, geometric shapes – contained between plain lines at the areas of greatest shaping (the rim shaping to the neck, the shoulders, and towards the base of the vase). This leaves two relatively large and unshaped areas for more complex painting, around the neck and the belly of the vase. There is a centered scene painted on the belly of the vase. To either side, underneath the handles, areas of large curved and fanned shapes can be seen.
In addition to the background painted in black slip and the red figures there is yellow and white painting.
The painting
Each of the medallion or volute shapes of the handles has a head painted in white with yellow hair.
In the centre of the neck of the vase is a painted bust (head and shoulders). It is surrounded by a symmetrical design which includes birds, ribbon-like swirls, foliage, what could be ears of wheat, and bell-shaped flowers.
The main painted panel shows a structure with ionic columns – a heroon. Within it is a warrior wearing armour (a cuirass), and what could be a chalmys draped around his shoulders. He holds a spear in his left hand and what is possibly a whip in his right hand. Behind the warrior is his horse.
On the left hand side is a woman holding a fan and carrying a basket. She wears a chiton and a cloak (a himation?). Her hair is dressed up and tied with a band, she wears earrings, bracelets and a necklace. The draping of her clothing is fluid and graceful.
On the right hand side a woman leans her elbow on a waist-high column, one leg crossed in front on the other with just the toes on the ground. She holds a mirror, her hair is dressed up, she seems to have a beaded headdress and is wearing earrings, bracelets and a necklace.
There are three inverted hook shapes which I think might be ribbons, a lozenge shape on the left which suggests a shield and a triangular shape suspended from the ceiling of the heroon.
Second viewing
Last week I visited the exhibition again to see the vase.
I was surprised by its size – I had forgotten how big it is.
Working from the catalogue photograph I hadn’t realised the depth of the handles. What looks like just a flat medallion at the top is actually the front face of a deeper grip, shaped like a cotton reel. The head of the medallion is in relief – a molded three dimensional element not just flat painting. The loop shapes at the base of the handle are in the form of swan heads.
It was during this visit that I was able to see the detail of the fallen shield and what looks like tassels on the whip. Working from the photo I thought the white columns at the front had yellow sides, but in life the yellow areas seem to be the columns at the back of the structure.
Additional information
The catalogue states “The vase was intended for a warrior’s burial” and I wondered what indicated that. A krater was used for mixing water and wine (2) and the size would seem to be unwieldy (unless one ladled rather than poured the liquid). This could suggest a more ceremonial than functional purpose.
It was customary to visit the graves of the dead and wind ribbons or sashes around the stele (commemorative slabs) (3), and that would fit with the three shapes that I think are ribbons.
The wife of Pluto, ruler of the underworld, was Persephone. Her mother Ceres, the corn goddess, searched for Persephone after her abduction by Pluto. (4) The ears of wheat might reference this myth.
For a long time I thought the triangular hanging shape was a bell, and after much searching a found a mention of bells used in the temples of Persephone (5) which seemed an exciting fit. However I’ve since seen a photograph on the British Museum website with a very similar object identified as a pilos (a helmet) (6). This would work with the shield and other accoutrements of the warrior.
I thought the “fallen shield” might be imagery referring to a fallen warrior, but have not found any information to support this.

Other remarks
I have completely mismanaged my time on this annotation and put far too much work into it. I got more and more interested, and every time I sat at the computer to type it up would find myself exploring the internet for more relevant information. I will need to be more disciplined in future.

(1) Australian Museum (2012) Alexander the Great: 2000 years of treasures.. Sydney: Australian Museum. Page 96.
(2) Honour, H. and Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art (revised 7th edition). London: Laurence King. Page 143.
(3) Wilson, N. (ed.) (2006) Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece. New York: Routledge. Page 207.
(4) Hall, J. (2008) Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art (Second Edition). Boulder: Westview Press.
(5) Pylyaev, M.I. [n.d.] Historial Bells [online] The Link of Times Foundation. Available from: [Accessed 17 April 2013]
(6) The Trustees of the British Museum [n.d.] Volute Krater (Registration number: 1836,0224.164) [online] The Trustees of the British Museum. Available from: [Accessed 17 April 2013]

Additional Information
Heuer, K. [n.d.] Funerary Vases in Southern Italy and Sicily [online] The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Available from: [Accessed 17 April 2013]

UA1-WA:P1-p1-Ex Annotation of a Greek vase painting
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part one: Classical and religious art.
Project one: Ancient Greece.
Exercise: Annotation of a Greek vase painting.


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