On display as examples of the relief engraving technique are three volumes printed in two of the most important centres of book production in Italy (Venice) and in France (Paris) between the end of the fifteenth and the start of the sixteenth centuries. In the 18th century, these valuable volumes came into the private book collection of the aristocratic Trivulzio family. Later purchased by the Municipality of Milan in 1935, they became part of the civic collections in the Biblioteca Trivulziana at Sforza Castle.

These are three books of hours, volumes for use during the private devotions of lay people during the so-called ‘canonical hours’ of the day. For Renaissance books of hours, the central focus was normally the office of the Virgin, the Horae Beatae Mariae Virginis, often accompanied by illustrations showing the most important episodes of the life of Mary, including also the Adoration of the Magi. Contemporary manuscripts were decorated with hand-painted miniatures, designed to inspire personal meditation. In printed works, figures and images were created thanks to the technique of relief engraving (most of all woodblock printing, or xilography).

The first example on display (Rari Triv. H 1857) was printed in Paris by Philippe Pigouchet for the De Marnef brothers on 1st December 1491. It is made of parchment and the relief engravings are coloured in by hand, imitating contemporary codices in the areas of France and Flanders. On the back of sheet e4 is the scene of the Adoration of the Magi. Can you make out the traces of ink from the woodblock printing underneath the brushstrokes of colour? Beside it is the second example of a book of hours (Rari Triv. D 659) also printed in Paris by Simon Vostre in 1508, but on paper and without subsequent colouring. The third volume on display (Rari Triv. L 2168) was printed in Venice on parchment by Lucantonio Giunta, on 30th April 1505. Here the scene of the Adoration of the Magi in the woodcut on the back of sheet d1 seems to have been coloured by hand in cursory fashion, using only a limited colour palette - blue, red, yellow and green.

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