What is believed to be an image of the Visitation, from a Book of Hours, 1440

The Book of Hours first started appearing in the 13th century and focused on devotions and prayers to Mary and Jesus organized according to the canonical hours.

An illustration for May from a Flemish Book of Hours, by Simon Bening in the early 16th century

The Metropolitan Museum has three copies of the Book of Hours at the Cloisters: the Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux, the Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry, and a diminutive manuscript by Simon Bening.

The devotion was modeled after the Divine Office, which was recited in monasteries at specific hours of the day. There were eight sets of prayers in the Book of Hours, meant to be said over a 24-hour span of time.

Some books also had other elements, such as a set of gospel lessons, the psalms, and prayers to saints known as Suffrages, according to the Met. Calendars reminded patrons of important feasts and saints’ days.

The Virgin and her child, from the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, 1440

In a Book of Hours, Matins (sunrise) was dedicated to the Annunciation, the Nativity was at Prime (6 a.m.), and the Annunciation to the Shepherds was at Terce (9 a.m.). The Hours of the Cross likewise follows Jesus at key moments of His Passion.

The Nativity of Jesus, folio 44v, from the The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry

One of the most famous examples is the Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry (The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry), which dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries in France, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. It is now held at the Musée Condé in Chantilly. The book includes images of the duke's residence and also features calendars painted by the Limbourg brothers.

The Man of Sorrows, folio 75r, from the The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry, 1485 and 1489


Purgatory, folio 113v, by Jean Colombe, The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry


The Arrest of Christ and the Annunciation, The Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux

"The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux was made for a fourteenth-century queen of France, and diminutive size, gossamer-thin parchment, and delicate painting by Jean Pucelle all contribute to its exquisite femininity. It includes a Life of Saint Louis, the king of France who was great-grandfather of Jeanne d’Evreux (54.1.2, fols. 154v–155r). Each of the Hours of the Virgin is introduced not only with the traditional scenes from Jesus’ infancy, but also a dramatic scene from the final days of his life, known as the Passion, on the facing page (54.1.2, fols. 82v–83r). All are rendered in grisaille, black and white drawings with lightly tinted backgrounds and other areas." (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

St. Louis with victims of the plague, The Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux.