The Isabella Breviary is the British Library's most highly prized treasure. This amazing manuscript was conceived of as the most luxurious Flemish breviary. Each of its pages has been masterfully illuminated by the finest Flemish painters, resulting in a lavish manuscript of peerless beauty.
The originality and impact of the miniatures in the Isabella Breviary make this a unique codex. Having more texts than a book of hours, a breviary offers illuminators a wider range of themes and consequently more artistic license and a greater variety of images. The six masters who worked on the Isabella Breviary paid particular attention to the scenes depicting the building, destruction and reconstruction of the temple and city of Jerusalem and also the celebration scenes with musicians and singers led by David. No other contemporary manuscript features a similar series.
Isabella the Catholic was given the manuscript shortly before 1497 by her ambassador Francisco de Rojas to commemorate the double marriage of her children, Infante John of Asturias and Infanta Joanna, to the children of emperor Maximilian of Austria and duchess Mary of Burgundy, Margaret and Philip. A full-page miniature shows the joint coat of arms created by Isabella and Ferdinand with a large eagle, the symbol of St John the Evangelist, and the coats of arms of the two new couples underneath.
The Isabella Breviary is of great historical importance because it reflects not only the artistic context but also the great political unrest in late-fifteenth-century Europe, a time when royal marriages meant international political alliances, territorial expansion etc.