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Vorstelijke luxe en devotie: Breviarium Mayer van den Bergh jubileumtentoonstelling

Princely luxury and devotion: Mayer van den Bergh Breviary jubilee exhibition Exhibition: 16 October 2004 - 17 January 2005

Museum information

In 2004 the Mayer van den Bergh Museum celebrates its hundredth birthday. On the occasion of the museum’s centenary, the first temporary exhibition will be devoted to the Mayer van den Bergh Breviary.

The Mayer van den Bergh Breviary is one of the most elaborate and rich manuscripts of the Ghent-Bruges school, which represents the last and also the most prolific episode in Flemish manuscript production. Manuscripts from this period boast a new style, lavish illunminations and innovative imaginative power. They were often personalised luxury products for members of the highest elite.

The Breviary, which has never been exhibited because of its sensitivity to light, has now been taken apart and will be given a new binding next year before being returned to the museum safe. It was decided that while the book is in its loose state, the museum should take the opportunity to put a selection of the numerous miniatures on show.

During the past 10 years the manuscript has also been the subject of extensive study. The exhibition will present some of the art historical findings and give an insight in the techniques and materials that were used for this unique masterpiece. Different aspects will be discussed: the origin, contents and function of breviaries, the patrons, the style and iconography of its miniatures, the study and restoration of the manuscript. All new insights are presented by Mrs. B. Dekeyzer in a special jubilee publication that is entirely devoted to the Mayer van den Bergh Breviary.

Collection: Breviary Mayer van den Bergh, Ghent-Bruges, circa 1510

This is one of the masterpieces of miniature art from the Southern Netherlands. A breviary is an illuminated ‘book of hours’ containing all necessary prayers for the entire ecclesiastical year arranged chronologically. It always begins with a Calendar of religious feasts and particular saints’ days. In this manuscript, every month is illustrated with corresponding signs of the zodiac and the seasonal human activities.

It is followed by the Psalter; the psalms are arranged to be recited at stated hours of the day and to be repeated in a weekly cycle. Next comes a series of sacred Hymns or Songs of Praise. In the Temporal or Proper of the Seasons, all the liturgical ceremonies of the ecclesiastical year are ranked in chronological order, starting with the Season of Advent.

Then comes the Sanctorum, the Proper and Common of the Saints whose own or proper offices are again placed in a monthly chronological order, according to their saint’s day. Next follow the common offices; the breviary finally contains a number of unchanging divine offices that could be celebrated throughout the year.

The miniatures of this exquisite and richly decorated example of penmanship are by Simon Bening (1482-?) and Gheeraert Horenbaut (circa 1465-1540/41). One miniature is attributed to the panel painter Jan Provost (circa 1465-1529). Although the book was written in Latin, its instructions for use are in Portuguese. This provides a clue to the nationality of the royal who had commissioned it. It is assumed to have been the property of King Manuel I of Portugal.


On the occasion of its centenary and the exhibition Royal Luxury and Devotion, the museum announces the publication of a new and fully illustrated study.

Dr. Brigitte Dekeyzer, Layers of Illusion – The Mayer van den Bergh Breviary
Hard cover, 208 pages, 234 illustrations (color), indexed, available in Dutch and English

Orders to:
Museum Mayer van den Bergh
Lange Gasthuisstraat 19
B-2000 Antwerpen
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