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The Book: The Medieval Book of Hours: Art and Devotion in the Later Middle Ages

In this module of The Book: Histories Across Time and Space, explore the structure and content of the Book of Hours, as well as its role in private devotion and daily life in Medieval Europe.
This course is archived
Estimated 4 weeks
2–4 hours per week
Instructor-paced
Instructor-led on a course schedule
Cost to Enroll
$90 USD

About this course

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In Medieval Europe the Book of Hours, so called because its core component consists of the Hours of the Virgin, became the prayer book of choice for worshippers prosperous enough to commission or purchase such a book.

Although its contents were of monastic origin, literate lay readers were the most likely to use books of hours, as served not only as a prayer book, but also as a way of keeping track of the calendar, often doubling as a family chronicle.

Books of hours provide insight into broad patterns of piety marking the High and later Middle Ages, and through their choice of texts, images and added materials, inform us about the interior life and aspirations of everyone from kings and queens and lords and ladies to monks and nuns and, ordinary members of the patrician class, merchants and others.

In this course, we will explore how books of hours provide the closest thing we have to a comprehensive and continuous record of the development of painting across most of western Europe from the later thirteenth through the early sixteenth century.

“The Book of Hours” is one module of a series of courses called “The Book: Histories Across Time and Space.” You may take this course on its own, or with the other courses of the series.


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At a glance

  • Language: English
  • Video Transcript: English

What you'll learn

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  • How to analyze and understand the Book of Hours in the context of Medieval European art
  • How to recognize regional variation in Books of Hours
  • The history of prayer in the Western Middle Ages
  • How to place the history of the Book of Hours as a genre within the context of the broader development of painting in Europe over the course of the 12th through the early 16th centuries
  • The role of images in prayer and piety through comparison to works of art in the Harvard University Art Museums

About the instructors

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