University of South Carolina English professor Scott Gwara had sorted through 32 lots of medieval books and manuscripts in a London auction house when he pulled out box 33 and discovered a pristine prayer book that he hoped would round out USC’s collection of 15th-century religious texts.
“I pulled this off the shelf and I thought, ‘This is amazing,’” Gwara recalled Friday as he unveiled the volume that was hand-lettered and illuminated more than 500 years ago. “It is the original cover, it has never been rebound, and the paint is as fresh as it was in 1490.”
Better yet, for a medievalist such as Gwara, the prayer book he uncovered in May while teaching a USC Maymester course on King Arthur was illuminated by Robert Boyvin. Boyvin was one of the premier French painters of his time, a renowned illuminator who was commissioned by wealthy and religious patrons intent upon owning one of the most popular books of the Middle Ages.
Those who had a Book of Hours could imitate monks in monastic orders who paused at regular times to pray. Even better, they could study vellum illustrations of biblical scenes and the saints in rich miniature detail amid backgrounds of vivid colors, including gold.
The book, written in Latin with 20 illustrations, originated in Rouen, France, which housed one of the most accomplished manuscript workshops of that era.