Degree Name

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.