Hours of Gian Galeazzo Visconti

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Visconti Hours LF46v, attributed to Belbello da Pavia

The Hours of Giangaleazzo Visconti is a Roman-liturgy illuminated Book of Hours that was commissioned by the ruler of Milan, Gian Galeazzo Visconti, in Italy in the late 14th century.[1] A Book of Hours is a personal prayer book that contained, in part, the Hours of the Virgin, a daily devotional that was popular at the time. This particular Book of Hours was created by two master illuminators, beginning with Giovannino dei Grassi before his death, and completed by Luchino Belbello da Pavia.[2]

The Visconti Hours is a classic example of the personal prayer books of the period, which were generally made for wealthy lay persons.

It wasn't finished until after Gian's (and the dei Grassi's) death. It is now in the Biblioteca Nazionale in Florence.


The pages are large in comparison to similar books, such as the Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux, measuring about 25 cm (9.8 in) in height and 17.9 cm (7 in) in width. They are decorated with different pigmented paints and ink on the vellum. The pigment used for the blue contained the rare lapis lazuli mixed with gum Arabic and the inks used for the texts are iron gall inks. The book has 636 pages containing 38 half to full-page miniatures and 90 historiated initials, with most pages still containing decoration throughout.[3] Three types of gold were used in the creation of this text including gold emulsion and burnished gold leaf.

Example of Blackletter Calligraphy

The font is a Gothic minuscule font that is known as blackletter calligraphy [4] The language it is written in is Latin.

The decoration of the pages is in the Gothic style, containing symbol-like floral ornamentation that does not directly reference flowers or plants found in nature. The figures are depicted in a more realistic manner than figures found in earlier historical periods, but also reference a more Byzantine style that envelopes the figures by utilizing a background usually created with gold leaf. The artists also inserted the Visconti family crest in multiple pages. The crest consists of a serpent devouring a child.

History and commission[edit]

Authorship of this text is attributed to Frate Amedeo who actually signed his work, which was not typical of the time period. It was commissioned by Gian Galeazzo Visconti in the late 14th century and was not completed until after his death at the request of his son Filippo Maria Visconti. The first artist commissioned was a master Italian illuminator by the name of Giovannino dei Grassi before his death and completed by Luchino Belbello da Pavia.

Gian Galeazzo Visconti, first Duke of Milan

Visconti was the first Duke of Milan and is accredited with creating the first modern bureaucracy because of a system of administration and programs therein that he created, including a program of bookkeeping. This included “committing to books and ledgers the minutest items of his private expenditure and the outgoings of his public purse…”[5]

It is considered a book of hours which is a personal prayer book that was intended for use at certain times, or hours, of the day. The book was owned first by Gian Galeazzo Visconti and upon his death in 1402 given to his son and completed through his request of Belbello da Pavia.


Giovannino dei Grassi[edit]

Born in Milan in about 1350, Giovannino dei Grassi was an Italian painter, sculptor, architect, and celebrated illuminator. He worked as an architect for the Dome in Milan though he is better known for his works in illumination and painting. He is also well known for his notebook of drawings kept in the Library Angelo Mai of Bergamo. This notebook is considered one of the most important examples of late Gothic Italian art and consisted of scenes of daily activities, animals and nature images, as well as illuminated letters. He died in 1398.

Luchino Belbello da Pavia[edit]

Belbello da Pavia was an Italian miniaturist and painter that was active between approximately 1430 and 1470. His life and career remained mostly undetected until the beginning of the twentieth century. At that time two scolars, Toesca and Pacchioni identified him.[6] His style was influenced by the work of Giovannino dei Grassi as well as Michelino da Besozzo. His contribution to the Offiziolo Visconti, the second half, is described primarily with being an unusual chromatic fantasy.


The volume is in a distinctly Italian late Gothic style.



  1. ^ Hamel, Christopher De (1997). A history of illuminated manuscripts (2nd ed, rev and enlarged. ed.). London: Phaidon Press. ISBN 978-0714834528.
  2. ^ Ingo F. Walther; Norbert Wolf (2005). Codices illustres : the world's most famous illuminated manuscripts 400-1600 (25th anniversary ed.). Köln: Taschen. ISBN 978-3822847503.
  3. ^ "Visconti Book of Hours". FacsimileFinder. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  4. ^ Millard Meiss; Edith W Kirsch (1972). The Visconti hours : National library, Florence. New York: George Braziller. ISBN 978-0807606513.
  5. ^ Symonds, John Addington (1888). Renaissance in Italy: The Age of Despots. New York: Henry Holt & Company. p. 142.
  6. ^ De Agostini, Novara (1964). "The Muses". III: 155.