NEWS: The Mystery of the Hours of Joanna the Mad by Joanna Fronska
The recent British Library on-line publication of the fabulous Hours illuminated by a pair of Ghent artists, the Master of James IV of Scotland and the Master of the First Prayerbook of Maximilian, prompted me to have a closer look at this manuscript associated with my famous namesake (Additional MS 35313). With its double opening of full-page miniatures preceding prayers for each canonical hour and the profusion of gold and colours, the manuscript was fit for royal eyes, but was it really made for the mad Castilian Queen Joanna? The evidence is somewhat circumstantial. The presence of two Saint Johns, the Evangelist and the Baptist in the Calendar, Litany and Suffrages, Joanna’s natural patrons (the name Joanna is a female version of the name John) is prominent but hardly exceptional.
It is the inclusion of a number of Spanish saints in the Litany that situates the Hours among books commissioned for or by members of the Spanish court. The saints’ list includes the two early Christian martyrs Emeterius and Celedonius, venerated at the royal foundation at Santander. Among the confessors, there are two Visigothic bishops, Ildephonsus of Toledo and Isidore of Seville, and a saint hardly venerated outside the Iberian Peninsula, St Adelelmus of Burgos, who replaced the Mozarabic rite in Léon and Castile with the Roman liturgy. Finally, among the virgins are included St Marina and St Quiteria who, according to a Portuguese legend, were sisters from Bayona (Pontevedra). But is it a proof of Joanna’s ownership of the book?
The manuscript includes one more piece of evidence that makes this hypothesis possible, but this time the evidence is iconographic. The Hours of the Dead opens with an unusual image (see below). The illustration of the encounter between the Three Living and the Three Dead, a moralizing tale built around a popular late-medieval theme of the memento mori (‘Be mindful of death’, or more commonly, ‘Remember you will die’), features a woman on horseback chased by skeletons armed with long arrows. The woman holds a hawk on her arm and two greyhounds run alongside her horse, suggesting that the attack takes place during a hunt.
The miniature has a likely model in the Book of Hours that once belonged to Mary of Burgundy and her husband Archduke Maximilian (now Berlin, Staatliche Museen, Kupferstichkabinett MS 78 B 12, f. 220v). Elfried Bok, a German scholar of the Netherlandish art, was the first to notice that the female rider in the Berlin Hours might be Mary herself (her initials ‘MM’ are on her horse’s harness), and that the miniature, which was a later insertion, might refer to her sudden death after a riding accident whilst falconing with her husband in 1482.
Another possibility is however even more attractive. The Dowager Princess of Asturias might have commissioned the book after her return to the Netherlands in 1500 as a gift to her Spanish sister-in-law Joanna of Castile. Joanna, sister of Margaret’s deceased husband John, married Margaret’s brother Philip I, known as the Handsome, the ruler of the Burgundian Netherlands, in another political match. Joanna was Spanish and her devotion to native saints would explain their presence in the litany. On the other hand, the striking allusion to Mary of Burgundy’s tragic accident in the Hours of the Dead would have appeal to her husband’s family memory.