COOLCRAZYBEAUTIFUL: The Grandes Heures of Anne of Brittany


A Pick of the Week from Special Collections of the UM Libraries

By Cristina Favretto, head of Special Collections

More than 300 pages of the illuminated manuscript have large borders illustrated with a careful depiction of, usually, a single species of plant.

The Grandes Heures of Anne of Brittany (Les Grandes Heures d’Anne de Bretagne in French) is a book of hours that had been originally commissioned by Anne of Brittany, consort of King Louis XII of France and illuminated in Tours or perhaps Paris by Jean Bourdichon between 1503 and 1508. Though our copy is an 1861 facsimile of the book, it showcases the fine quality and care that went into the nineteenth century printing process.

Facsimiles like these often sell for prices well into the thousands today due to the level of accuracy they capture of the original, including its drawings and trimmings which are finely illustrated with rich, appealing colors. Its pages are also delicately lined with gold paint at the edges to emulate the air of luxury that the original contained, and the text inside is presented in beautiful calligraphy, surrounded by adornments of flowers, curling vines, and depictions of various daily scenes of Anne in worship.

Scenes from the Life of Christ and that of Mary are depicted as well as a number of portraits and scenes of saints.

The book is so detailed and intricate that it contains over a hundred different species of plants simply being used as borders and decorations, and the portraits themselves are an excellent homage to medieval religious art, reflecting the essence of it perfectly.

Since the replica had been created to scale of the original, the weight of this volume truly feels massive in one’s hands, giving the reader a small feel for how the upper echelons of French society had chosen to conduct their persona l worship. Though some would claim this more as a work of vanity than anything else considering the sheer level of labor put into it and how many times Anne shows up as a subject caught in reverent supplication, it is difficult not to feel awed by the presence and magnitude the book has to offer. It’s a stunning work of art on visual merit alone that overpowers the actual text within which primarily offers daily prayers to be recited during canonical times of the day.

COOLCRAZYBEAUTIFUL is written by Yvette Yurubi and showcases unique items at Special Collections and the University Archives discovered by librarians and staff members while on the job. They gather monthly for “Show and Tell” to present their top finds. You too can experience these items up close, and access other rare and interesting treasures, by visiting Special Collections and the University Archives, located on the 8th floor of the Otto G. Richter Library.