Close Up

Bourdichon’s Painted Prayers

June 16 - September 11, 2022
Fenway Gallery

Court painter to four successive kings, Jean Bourdichon (French, about 1457 - 1521) was best known for his gilded books and his sophisticated illuminated manuscripts. One such masterpiece is his Book of Hours, known by many as the “Boston Hours,” in the Gardner Museum’s collection. In the summer of 1890, Isabella Stewart Gardner purchased this Christian prayer book filled with beautifully painted images. Isabella took great pride in her library and, in particular, this book, the crown jewel of her collection. It is today the only complete and intact example of this type in the United States and this summer is displayed unbound for the very first time so the public may enjoy the colorful and masterful pages each on their own.

Although little known today, Bourdichon produced a vast variety of work, most of which is lost. But his artistic legacy endures in the devotional books he created for the French nobility. As with other illuminated manuscripts of the period, Bourdichon’s “Boston Hours” tells stories through its illustrations, guiding the reader through the life and death of Jesus Christ as depicted in 13 paintings. The Bourdichon pages are lavish and monumental, and his biblical scenes in architectural frames of columns and arches are as vivid today as they were five centuries ago.

Be transported from the page and discover the transcendent practice of Renaissance devotion.


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Painter to French sovereigns, Jean Bourdichon (French, about 1457 - 1521) was one of the most talented artists of the Renaissance. In 1481, at the age of twenty four, he earned the title "painter to the king" and remained in royal service for the rest of his life. Over forty years he worked for, among others, Charles VIII, Louis XII, and his wife Anne of Brittany, and produced a vast variety of work — from portraits to parade floats, stained glass designs and even plaster death masks. Today he remains best known for his dazzlingly painted prayer books, rare examples of which are held in museums in Europe and the United States, including the Gardner.

Bourdichon Covers


In this Gardner Museum publication, leading scholars Nicholas Herman and Anne-Marie Eze shed new light on the patronage and provenance of Bourdichon’s Book of Hours — from the shelves of a wealthy Catholic landowner in Lincolnshire to the shop of a Venetian art and antiques dealer.



This summer, we invite you to enjoy programs celebrating the literary and performing arts and designed for visitors of all ages. Details coming soon! 

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Close Up: Bourdichon’s Painted Prayers is part of the Close Up exhibition series that has been generously sponsored by Fredericka and Howard Stevenson. The Museum also receives operating support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which is supported by the state of Massachusetts and the National Endowment for the Arts.