Anna Eörsi, Budapest

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The Vienna Hours, illuminated by the artist known as the “Master of Mary of Burgundy”, was originally commissioned by Margaret of York. The later parts of the manuscript commemorate the love and marriage between Mary of Burgundy and Maximilian of Habsburg, and their (newborn or expected) child.

The miniatures and texts in question convey the same idea expressed on several occasions by the official historian, Jean Molinet: in the Burgundian court, the duchess was venerated as the Virgin Mary (and in consequence of this, Maximilian – and Philip – came to be revered as the Saviour, and Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor, as the Father). Underlying the tendency to identify Mary of Burgundy with the Virgin Mary was the situation of Burgundy and its heiress, which was understood by means of salvation-historical analogies. In the book of hours, the figures of the two Marys are conflated several times in a variety of ways (fols. 14v, 19v, 43v, 94v, 99v). The hymn in praise of the heavenly joys of the Virgin Mary, which is organically related to the frontispiece image, is thus (also) a chanted sequence for the eternal beatitude of the young bride. The painter conjured up the imaginary figure of Maximilian in the foreground of the two miniatures with window scenes, while the jewels in the border around the image of the Crucifixion scene allude to Margaret of York. These miniatures have a playful tone (as evidenced by the role-swapping between the Marys, the book-within-a-book, picture-within-a-picture, vision-within-a-vision, trompe l’oeil solutions, and the complex dialogue between objects, materials and locations).

There are a number of factors supporting the argument that the miniatures, hitherto attributed to the Master of Mary of Burgundy, were illuminated by Hugo van der Goes, who was a resident of the Red Cloister at the time, and that he was commissioned by the Austrian Archduke. The date of 1478 is rendered likely by stylistic and biographical factors (the paintings Hugo made in the cloister, both before and after, his later illness, the visit of Maximilian, the birth of Philip the Handsome). It was also at this time that Jean Molinet wrote Le Chappellet des dames, which makes multiple comparisons between the duchess and the Virgin Mary, and whose imagery is often echoed in the folios of the Vienna Hours. It is possible that the first (co-)owner of the manuscript was Maximilian of Habsburg.

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