Books of Hours were fairly popular among the European nobility in the 15th and 16th century, a period when it was also quite common to find special spaces set aside in many households for private worship. Considered luxury objects, these books presented the liturgical calendar and organised their owners’ daily prayer rituals, consisting of pages of text alternating with masterfully illuminated leaves of parchment.
Some historians believe that the scenes illustrating the Service for the Dead (folio 130), in this Book of Hours, are related with the funeral, burial and transfer of the mortal remains of King Manuel I to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (the latter event taking place only in 1551). This being the case, the work was completed in the reign of King João III (1521-1557), Dom Manuel I’s son and heir.
This folio takes us back to the Lisbon of 1521 (the year of Dom Manuel I’s death), showing us a typical district of the city during the time of Portugal’s Overseas Discoveries: Rua Nova dos Mercadores, the hub of trade and commerce and the place where one would find the workshops of engravers, gold and silversmiths, jewellers and gilders, as well as the casas de escambo, the 16th-century equivalent of the modern-day exchange bureaus.