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A masterpiece of the art of illumination in Lombardy


The Visconti Book of Hours

Firenze, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Mss. BR 397 e LF 22

Known as the "Offiziolo Visconti"(or Libro d'Ore Visconti) this two-volume illuminated codex is a particularly lavish work. We owe the illuminations, which date back to separate periods, to two artists who differ greatly the one from the other. With the aid of colleagues, Giovannino de’ Grassi, working for Gian Galeazzo Visconti, is responsible for the opening pages. On Gian Galeazzo's death in 1402, the work came to a halt, and was taken up again by Belbello da Pavia when Gian Galeazzo's son, Filippo Maria, ascended to the duchy in 1412.

Toward the end of his life, Gian Galeazzo, by commissioning a truly unique series of splendid illustrated volumes dedicated to flora, fauna, medicine and the seasons of the year, raised the two cities of Pavia and Milan to the rank of major European centres for the production of illuminated codices.

Frate Amadeo, who was responsible for the text of the book of prayers, signed his work, but this was not the practice among illuminators at that time. Indeed, it is only by examining external evidence that we may ascribe to the imaginative powers of Giovannino de’ Grassi the illustrations with which the manuscript opens. The other great illuminator for the second part of this Book of Hours is Belbello da Pavia.

Many of the illuminations of the Book of Hours belong to the early days of Belbello's development as an artist. He progressed from his compact, highly detailed style, accompanied by a certain preciosity, toward an approach which evidences an easing of tensions and the more audacious approach to colour we note in the Messale di Mantova (Missal of Mantua).

Photographic atlas

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