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Simon Marmion, Boussu Hours, religious suffering, contrition


Simon Marmion and the Master of Antoine Rolin’s Boussu Hours (ca. 1490-95) is resplendent with imagery of suffering in its unusual marginal decorations. Holy effluvia—blood and tears—flow from golden pages covered in wounds and weeping eyes. These decorations, surrounding the Hours of the Passion, pictorially enact a theological notion of tears as wounding agents, and spiritually prompt the reader’s contrition. Notable wear on the “bloody” page indicates a pattern of tactile interaction between book and reader; this physical engagement with the marginals represents a quasi-liturgical manifestation of guilt and efforts made to abate it. The gestural touching of the page also connects blood to visual representations of weeping, furthering the connections between bleeding, touching, crying, and repenting. As microcosms of Christ’s tormented face in Gethsemane and of Mary’s anguishing sorrow at the foot of the cross, the fluids on the pages catalyze a chain of imitation wherein the reader emulates Mary who emulates Christ himself. This paper suggests that the pictorial blood and tears mediate the relationship between sinner and sanctified Mother, and the shedding of tears brings them together as they both experience the agony of Christ, centralized in their dripping, reddened eyes.