Cunliffe Book of Hours

Manuscripts of two worlds

What a joy it must have been to hold this beautifully decorated book of hours in your hands. With its nine small miniatures, twenty historiated initials, thirteen decorated initials, its many leaves with complete or partial margin decorations, colourful and with shining goldleaf, the Cunliffe Book of Hours is a splendid manuscript. The making of this manuscript was not a cheap affair and for the job professional masters were engaged. Whoever owned it, must have been very rich. Or not?

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The bestsellers of the late Middle Ages

Hs 8, fol 37r - Cunliffe Getijdenboek, topstuk uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteit Utrecht
Hs 8 L 20, fol 37r - Cunliffe Book of Hours

Books of hours are sometimes viewed as the 'bestsellers' of the late Middle Ages, thousands have survived. That is because they belong to the most lavishly decorated manuscripts, especially the copies that were made for the high nobility and for sovereigns. They stimulated the leading of a pious life, based on praying, reading and singing at fixed times, as was daily done in cloisters. There the choral prayers took place on the canonical hours between sunrise and sunset: matins, lauds, prime, terce, sext, none, vesper and compline. To each prayer belonged a fixed pattern of lectures, prayers and hymns (responsoria, antiphons and hymns).

For lay people

Lay people who wanted to follow or imitate this regimen of prayers could use a book of hours. These also contained texts for special occasions, for instance to pray for a favour or to do penance for sins committed. In the 15th century, when literacy and wealth among well-to-do citizens and nobility increased, books of hours became the most frequently produced manuscripts. They were often decorated and kept as objects representing status. But also among the clergy and in cloisters the books of hours became popular to support the personal devotion of the monks.


As to content books of hours could vary, even though most of them have a number of fixed elements. In the Low Countries Latin as well as Middle Dutch books of hours circulated, the latter were based on the translation made by Geert Grote and his followers around 1380. Grote was the founder of the Modern Devotion, a spiritual movement which advocated pious dedication in the vernacular instead of in Latin, which most people could not understand. Some books of hours are bilingual, including the so-called Cunliffe Book of Hours ( Ms. 8 L 20). Apart from the calendar at the beginning of the book, the first quarter is written in Middle Dutch and contains the Short Hours of the Cross, short prayers and  supplications to the saints. The rest is in Latin: the Hours of the Holy Spirit, the Hours of Eternal Wisdom, the Hours of the Virgin, seven penitential psalms, the Litany of the Saints and the Office of the Dead. The hours are subdivided in the canonical hours (Matin, Lauds etc.) with the accompanying prayers supplemented or otherwise by hymns and lectures (for an extensive table of contents, see the bottom of this page).

Three masters

Hs 8 fol 55v - Cunliffe getijdenboek, topstuk uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht
MS 8 L 20 fol 55v - Cunliffe Book of Hours

Because they were hand made - from writing and illuminating to the process of binding - each Book of Hours was unique. However, they were made 'in mass production' in workshops by writers and masters who, for the large part, remained unknown. The Cunliffe Book of Hours is no exception to this rule. This is shown by the three artists who illuminated the manuscript.

The first master took the lion's share. He was in fact the one who made all the miniatures and historiated inittials and the accompanying margin decorations. His work if of a fairly good quality, the illustrations relatively simple, the margin decorations exuberant and colourful. A striking feature is the gold-blue-pink rod in the margin, and the golden spangles, acanthus leaves, trails of leaves that fill the margins, sometimes including flowers and fruit. Furthermore, a colourful selection of several birds and animals can be seen: from monkeys, bears, dogs, wolves to fantasy creatures. These scenes are outlined with gold.

Hs 8 fol 77r -Cunliffe getijdenboek, topstuk uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht
Ms 8 L 20 fol 77r -Cunliffe Book of Hours

The second master has decorated the sections fol. 70r to 113v, except fol. 87r and 106v. Even though his contribution is more modest, his decorations are of a higher quality and the colours are more vivid. What is really striking is his choice of the characters he uses to fill in some initials in the Hours of the Holy Spirit, because next to Jesus as Salvator Mundi (fol. 88r) and Mary (or another female saint) (102v) we also find a flute player (70r), a monk with (so it seems) bad teeth playing a bagpipe (108v), a nobleman (105r), praying 80r, 113r) and a maiden (77r, 84r, 98v), dressed after the fashion of that time.

Hs 8 fol 32r - Cunliffe getijdenboek, topstuk uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht
Ms 8 L 20 fol 32r - Cunliffe Book of Hours

The third master has contributed on a smaller scale: he decorated the initials on fol. 32r, 33r, 72v en 115r, and his work is less refined than the work of the other two. Presumably he was an apprentice of one of them.

There is a clear distinction between the three masters, and especially the second master has his own style which is also apparent in the margin decorations. The same goes for the initials which have been decorated in a simpler way (for instance compare fol. 103v with 104r). However, research must still be done into how the margin decorations were distributed among the three and maybe other masters.

Rare illustrations

Hs 8 fol 189r - Cunliffe getijdenboek, topstuk uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht
Ms 8 L 20 fol 189r - Cunliffe Book of Hours

The miniatures and historiated initials in books of hours often follow the same pattern, in which particular scenes are used for specific texts. For instance, the Short Hours of the Cross in the Cunliffe Book of Hours and many other books of hours are illuminated with Passion scenes: from the Garden of Gethsemane (fol. 13r) to the Resurrection (23r);  the Hours of the Virgin with nativity scenes and scenes from Jesus' childhood (128r-153r);  the Penitential Psalms with David (as alleged author of the Psalms) (169r) and the Office of the Dead with two souls in the hellmouth (189r). However, there was an ample selection of (a combination of) scenes to choose from (cf. Broekhuijsen 2009, 27-34).

Hs 8 fol 65r - Cunliffe getijdenboek, topstuk uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht
Ms 8 L 20 fol 65r -Cunliffe Book of Hours

In the Cunliffe Book of Hours it is noticable that the beginning of the Hours of the Holy Spirit are marked by a miniature that depicts the scene of the 'Gathering of the manna' (fol. 65r). This is a remarkable choice which you only see in a few other books of hours. Klara Broekhuijsen (2009, 35) mentions two other examples besides the Cunliffe Book of Hours: Antwerp, Museum Platijn-Moretus, Ms. 14.12 (Holland, ca. 1490-1500) and Brussels, Royal Library, Hs. 10.761. The latter has other rare scenes in common with the Cunliffe Book of Hours, such as the 'Presentation of Christ as a child in the temple' with Anna and Simeon (fol. 146v) and the 'Prophecy of the Tiburtine Sibyl to Augustine', both in the Hours of the Virgin (fol. 160r). These scenes we also find in the Brussels manuscript (Byvanck 1946, 144)

Designs in the margin

These three exceptional illustrations in the Cunliffe Book of Hours are all made by the first master. Alexander Willem Byvanck (in Dutch) discovered  as early as 1946 that this master was also responsible for the historiated initials in Brussels 10.761. This book of hours is even more lavishly decorated, but lacks the special designs in the margin decorations, contributing to the charm of the Cunliffe Book of Hours, such as a writing wild man (fol. 32r), wild man with beard and spear (146v), a monkey playing a lute (65r), monkey with child (87r), monkey feeding a bird (142v), fox with a monk's cowl (138v), a violinist (72v), all kinds of monstrous beasts ( (37r, 48v, 55v, 84r, 102v - with a bib) and the small dragon spitting leaves (77r, 88r, 108v).


Hs 8 fol 108v - Cunliffe getijdenboek, topstuk uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht
Ms 8 L 20 fol 108v - Cunliffe Book of Hours

The latter design is present everywhere in Utrecht penwork (the long and often curly lines running from the initial to the margin) from the 14th and 15th century, but the penwork throughout the entire book of hours, carried out in the same style (cf. fol. 81v, 120v en 174v), does not match one of the Utrecht penwork styles from the second half of the 15th century (Gerritsen-Geywitz 2017).The section with the Litany differs in this respect (180v-186r), but in this case it is, at the most, a matter of a watered-down imitiation of the Utrecht crown and dragon style (ibid., 44-56).

Flanders and Utrecht 

This conclusion raises the question of provenance: where is this Book of Hours made? Byvanck (1946) chose Utrecht, and saw in the style a follower of the 'Maître du passionnaire de Londres', who is now also called the Master of the Feathery Cloudsprobably a Flemish master who came to live in Utrecht around 1460. In what way the masters of the Cunliffe Book of Hours and Brussels 10.761 relate to this master and his circle is still a subject of research. There is also the question if they too moved from Flanders to Utrecht. Byvanck dates the Cunliffe Book of Hours around 1475, the period before the Breviary of Beatrijs van Assendelft from 1485 was made (Utrecht, Museum Catharijneconvent, OKM h3).

Two Utrecht families

Hs 8 fol 13r - Cunliffe getijdenboek, topstuk uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht
Ms 8 L 20 fol 13r - Cunliffe Book of Hours

Another argument why the Cunliffe Book of Hours could have been made in Utrecht is connected to the two coats of arms which are held by two bears at the beginning of the Short Hours of the Cross. On the left shield we see three black crowns on a field of gold, on the right shield ten silver lilies, in four rows (four, three, two, one) on a black field. Byvanck already established that we are dealing with the influential Utrecht families Van Lanscroon (Lantscroon) and Van Raephorst, and that the manuscript was probably made for one of the childeren from the marriage between Adriaen van Lanscroon en Alijt (Alydt) van Raephorst (⚭1419). This was taken over in later descriptions (Van der Horst et al. 1984, 264; Van der Horst 1989, 29).

Adriaen van Lanscroon was the eldest son of Roetard van Lanscroon (son of Johan van Lanscroon, sheriff of Utrecht in 1366) and  Alfarda van Lichtenberg, who  married in 1380. Adriaen was sixteen times sheriff of Utrecht in the period between 1419 and 1461 and he was still alive in 1471. In 1419 he married Alijt van Raephorst, daughter of Gijsbert van Raephorst. They had three sons (Jan, Roetaard and Gijsbert) and two daughters (Wendelmoet and Alijt) (Van der Muelen 1883). However, we know that the book of hours must have been made for a woman, because of the phrase Ic onreyn sunderste bidde di  (I, unpure sinner pray to thee) on fol. 106v. Sunderste is the female form of 'sinner'. Of the two daughters Alijt is mentioned in 1442, and we know that Wendelmoet became a nun in the Utrecht Wittevrouwen convent. According to a memory table in the Wittevrouwen, which is sadly lost, she died in 1511 (Van Heussen 1719, I, 365; 1733, I, 98: 'Wendelmoit van Lanscroen'). This makes her the most likely candidate to have owned the Cunliffe Book of Hours that was probably made for her when she entered the convent. This is also true for Beatrijs van Assendelft who received her book of hours when she became a nun.

From Shropshire back to Utrecht

It is possible that the book of hours remained in Utrecht after the death of Wendelmoet. On the blank pages at the end of the manuscript we find two inscriptions which mention the birth of Klaes Pieterse Hanibalse in 1696 (fol. 217v) and of Ermina Klaes Hanibalse in 1718 (217r). They probably belonged to the same Hanibals(e) family as Aeltgen Hanibals, who married in Utrecht tin 1616 with Claes Pellen. From the end of the 18th century we find the name of Hanibals in the Dutch East Indies.

Schutblad van het Cunliffe getijdenboek, topstuk uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht
Flyleaf of the Cunliffe Book of Hours Hs 8 L 20

What happened next to the manuscript is not clear, but eventually it found an owner who has given it his name. At the beginning of the manuscript an ex libris is glued to the page with the text 'E libris Henrici Cunliffe armigeri' and the picture of a greyhound sitting up and the monogram CH. This was the ex libris of Henry Cunliffe (1826-1894), the fourth son of Sir Robert Henry Cunliffe (1785-1859). In English sources the owner is known as 'Reverend Henry Cunliffe, M.A., Vicar of Shifnal' (Shropshire, near Birmingham), a well-known collector. After his death a selection of books from his library was sold anonymously at the auctioneering firm of Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge ('A catalogue of valuable books'). However, the book of hours was sold by Sotheby's in London at the auction of 27 and 28 May 1946, no. 683, where it was bought by the London bookshop Francis Edwards Ltd , and the same year acquired by Utrecht University Library.

The rebinding of the manuscript in 1946 gave a few problems. Byvanck counted quires consisting of four to twelve leaves, but his reconstruction was made difficult by the missing of signature marks or catch words: nearly all of them were cut out (with the exception of fol. 53v, and 89r-92r and 213r). Also a number of leaves was missing and one leaf (fol.106) had ended up in the wrong place. Now the manuscript counts 218 leaves, measuring over 17.5 by 12.5 cm.

Acquiring the manuscript was at the urgent request of Paul Steven Breining, 1902-1990 (see Byvanck 1946, 142n.1) who also conducted research into the book of hours, that was never finished or published (now Ms. 6 F 29 no. 20). By acquiring the book things has almost turned full circle for the Cunliffe Book of Hours. Because if it was really intended for Wendelmoet Lanscroon, the acquirement of the book caused it to end up close to the Wittevrouwen convent where she lived as a nun. The convent was situated on the east side of the Plompetorengracht, on the corner of Wittevrouwenstraat, opposite the place where Utrecht University Library was located in 1946. Since 2004 the Cunliffe Book of Hours has been housed in the University Library Utrecht Science Park.

And so it looks as if this expensive, lavishly illustrated book of hours was meant for a relatively poor nun, although from a rich family. In the manuscript several group meet: the well-to-do citizens with convent life, maybe Flanders with Utrecht, the unknown Dutch Hanibalse family meets the well-known English ollector Cunliffe, and in the drawings the players of flutes and bagpipes team up with the Christian saints. In many respects the Cunliffe Book of Hours is a manuscript where two worlds meet.

Hs 8 L 20 fol 108v - Cunliffe getijdenboek, topstuk uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht
Hs 8 L 20 fol 108v Cunliffe getijdenboek

Author: Bart Jaski, June 2020