Master of Arts (MA)
Semester of Degree Completion
The Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves, produced in
the Netherlands c. 1440-45, is one of the most beautiful and
complex illuminated manuscripts of the late Middle Ages.
The Master's originality in his symbolic use of floral
images in the borders of the manuscript is remarkable, yet
little study has been made of this subject. The meaning of
these floral images is, however, important to a complete
understanding of the illumination of the manuscript.
Using a set of criteria based on the tenets of the
Devotie Moderna, a philosophy strong in the Netherlands at
the time, I show that ten plants growing in northern Europe
in the 15th century were used as symbolic images in the
borders of the Hours of the Virgin and the Hours of the
Cross, the first two sets of hours in the Cleves Hours.
Further, these symbolic floral border images relate to and
reinforce the meaning of the miniatures within the borders.
Three tenets of the Devotie Moderna in particular are
in accord with both the Master's choice of plant forms and
his use of them as symbols in the borders. These tenets
are: 1) the value of study of the immediate physical world
as a means of understanding God's will, 2) the value of
individual interpretation in gaining that understanding, and
3) the value of expressing that understanding of God's will
in terms of personal experience. In accord with these three
tenets, the Master found significance in plants of the
garden and roadside as well as those of religious use, used
his own experience to interpret their forms as symbols, and
depicted these images in forms that were exaggerated or
changed to emphasize their impact as symbols.
In the Hours of the Virgin and the Hours of the Cross,
the Master used the rose, violet, pea, physalis, calendula,
daffodil, strawberry, bindweed, nightshade, and a crucifer
in borders that relate to scenes of the life of the Virgin
and the Passion of Christ. Many of these images had not
been seen in illumination before the Cleves Master. Those
taken from church iconography were changed to emphasize
their meaning in ways that had not been seen before.
The Master's breadth of choice and individual handling
of these floral images often make these images difficult to
recognize and to interpret today. A comparison of the images
in the borders with plants known to have grown in the
Netherlands of the Middle Ages shows that the Master chose
his images from live models. A comparison of the plants he
chose to those described in herbals and used symbolically
in literature shows that the Master used plant images taken
from his personal experience with a wide range of sources
including textual as well as visual ones. A comparison of
the plants to the Master's changed images of them shows how
he created images with still greater symbolic impact.
Finally, a comparison of these changed images in the borders
with the scenes of the miniatures shows that the border images
reflect and support the symbolic meaning of the miniatures,
adding significantly to the meaning of the total
illumination of the manuscript.
Schaeffer, Elizabeth R., "Image and Meaning in the Floral Borders of the Hours of Catherine of Cleves" (1987). Masters Theses. 1271.