Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

Limbourg Brothers, Herman, Jean, Paul, c. 1370-80-1416         
Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, Anatomical Man/Zodiac Man (folio 14v), 1413-16, Painting on Vellum, 30×21 cm, Museum Conde, Chantilly, France https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anatomical_Man.jpg

The Limbourg Brothers were a trio of Dutch Renaissance painters: Herman, Paul, and Johan Limbourg from Nijmegen. They are most famous for their work on the illuminated manuscript Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry), which they created in the early 15th century. This manuscript is considered one of the masterpieces of French International Gothic Art. The brothers were known for their meticulous attention to detail and their ability to capture the richness of color and texture in their work. Unfortunately, their careers were cut short when they died at a young age, possibly due to the bubonic plague. Despite their short lives, their contributions to art and illumination continue to be celebrated and studied today.

Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry is an exquisite, illuminated manuscript that stands as a masterpiece of artistry and cultural heritage. Commissioned by Jean de Valois (1340-1416), Duc de Berry, in the early 15th century, between c. 1412 and 1416, this lavishly decorated Book of Hours captures the essence of the era’s religious devotion, aristocratic splendor, and the beauty of the natural world. Created by the Limbourg brothers, but never completed, it showcases their unparalleled skill in miniature painting, with each page a vibrant tapestry of intricate details and vivid colors. Beyond its artistic magnificence, the manuscript serves as a window into the opulent lifestyle and spiritual fervor of the medieval French court, making it a treasured relic of both artistic and historical significance.

An anonymous painter, widely speculated by art historians to be Barthélemy d’Eyck, undertook further embellishments for the unfinished manuscript in the 1440s. Subsequently, between 1485 and 1489, the manuscript underwent significant modifications by the painter Jean Colombe, acting on behalf of the Duke of Savoy, ultimately achieving its present state. Following its acquisition by the Duc d’Aumale in 1856, the book now resides as MS 65 in the Musée Condé, located in Chantilly, France.

This amazing manuscript is a collection of prayers to be said at the canonical hours. It contains a rich assortment of religious texts, prayers, and beautifully illustrated scenes depicting the liturgical calendar and the life of Christ. Its pages feature elaborate depictions of saints, biblical events, the months of the year, and scenes from everyday life, meticulously crafted with intricate details and vibrant colors. Additionally, the manuscript includes annotations, psalms, and devotional readings tailored for personal prayer and reflection. Beyond its religious content, the manuscript also offers glimpses into the aristocratic life, and the life of the peasants, of the time, with illustrations of courtly gatherings, hunting scenes, idyllic landscapes, and peasant chords. Each page is a testament to the skill of the Limbourg brothers and their mastery of the art of illumination, making it a captivating blend of religious devotion, artistic excellence, and historical insight.

Folio 14v, the manuscript’s page presenting the Anatomical or Zodiac Man, is a rare motif in medieval art, an elusive miniature, a unique iconography, and a riddle for all scholars involved in interpreting its meaning. Folio 14v is my personal favourite!

Against a backdrop of magnificent blue skies adorned with golden clouds, two naked men stand back-to-back at the center of the mandola-shaped composition. Within the body frame of the human figure facing the viewer, the manuscript artists present the twelve Signs of the Zodiac. Each Sign, meticulously arranged and governing a specific part of the body, is steeped in the medieval belief— a Hellenistic inheritance, to be precise— in astrological medicine. This belief posited that the movements of celestial bodies influenced health and bodily functions. The second figure, as presented by the Limbourgs, is the most enigmatic aspect of the composition. Seen from the back in a mirror-like reflection, this figure starkly contrasts with the first. Not adorned with Zodiacal Signs, he possesses auburn hair, and his arms are positioned differently. Together, they remain open to interpretation, lacking a definitive explanation.

Limbourg Brothers, Herman, Jean, Paul, c. 1370-80-1416         
Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, Anatomical Man/Zodiac Man (detail), 1413-16, Painting on Vellum, 30×21 cm, Museum Conde, Chantilly, France

The Anatomical or Zodiac Man is framed by three mandola-shaped bands. The outermost band corresponds to the 360 degrees of the circle of heavens, scaled and sub-divided into twelve thirty-degree sectors, each corresponding to one zodiacal constellation. The inner band marks the days of each month for the entire year. The calibrations are precisely synchronized so that each month spans the interval from the exact mid-point of one sign to that of its successor. https://www.jstor.org/stable/750460?read-now=1&seq=4#page_scan_tab_contents Harry Bober The Zodiacal Miniature of the Très Riches Heures of the Duke of Berry: Its Sources and Meaning Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 11 (1948), pp. 1-34 (45 pages)

Within the outer bands, which are narrow in size, the Limbourg brothers positioned a wider band, beautifully adorned in green, blue, and gold, where a second set of the twelve Zodiac Signs is shown. Meticulously rendered, each Sign highlights the Limbourg brothers’ mastery of detail and design. The mandola shape of the band is further accentuated by the incorporation of the Zodiac Signs within similarly mandola-shaped designs. Together, they enrich the folio’s aesthetic appeal, contributing to a harmonious visual balance that complements the central figure’s anatomical depiction. Through this carefully crafted frame, the manuscript not only presents scientific knowledge but also elevates it to an aesthetic realm, inviting viewers to explore the interconnectedness of earthly and celestial phenomena.

In a captivating display of detail, the illumination’s apexes are adorned with the heraldic symbols representing the Duke of Berry, lending an air of regal splendor to the manuscript’s margins. Positioned alongside these symbols are four Latin inscriptions, each describing the characteristics attributed to the Zodiac Signs based on their complexions, temperaments, and cardinal points. In the upper left, Aries, Leo, and Sagittarius are depicted as fervently warm and dry, imbued with the fiery essence of the choleric temperament, and bearing the masculine energy of the East. Meanwhile, the upper right unveils Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn, enveloped in a cold and dry temperament, steeped in melancholy, and embracing the feminine allure of the Western realm. Descending to the lower left quadrant, Gemini, Aquarius, and Libra emerge with a vibrant warmth and humidity, embodying the sanguine spirit, and exuding the masculine vigor of the Southern domain. Finally, the lower right quadrant unveils Cancer, Scorpio, and Pisces, cloaked in a chilly dampness, embodying the phlegmatic essence, and emanating the tranquil femininity of the Northern expanse. This interplay of symbolism and description not only enriches the visual tapestry but also invites contemplation on the interconnectedness of celestial forces and human attributes.

The depiction of the Anatomical or Zodiac Man in the Limbourg brothers’ manuscript Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry exudes a captivating aesthetic that seamlessly intertwines scientific inquiry with artistic mastery. Positioned within the intricate framework of medieval illumination, the figure emerges as a harmonious blend of anatomical precision and symbolic richness. Each rendered detail, from the delicate lines delineating the body’s proportions to the illustrated Zodiac Signs, invites contemplation and admiration. The vibrant hues of the illuminations, delicately applied gold leaf, and intricate patterns that adorn the margins further enhance the visual allure, drawing the viewer into a mesmerizing exploration of the human form and its cosmic connections. This fusion of artistic technique and intellectual curiosity epitomizes the manuscript’s exquisite aesthetic, offering a window into both the scientific knowledge and artistic sensibilities of the era.

For a PowerPoint Presentation on the Limbourg Brothers, please… Check HERE!

Bibliography: https://les-tres-riches-heures.chateaudechantilly.fr/ and https://www.jstor.org/stable/750460?read-now=1&seq=4#page_scan_tab_contents

The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux Queen of France

Jean Pucelle, French, active Paris, 1319–34
The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux, Queen of France, Folios 9v-10r, Calendar Pages for September, ca. 1324-28, Grisaille, tempera, and ink on vellum, Single folio: 9.2 x 6.2 cm, the MET, NY, USA Jean Pucelle | The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux, Queen of France | French | The Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org)

The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux, Queen of France, is a famous medieval illuminated manuscript created around the year 1324-1328. Currently housed in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, on display at the Cloisters, the manuscript is considered one of the most exquisite examples of Late Gothic manuscript illumination. It was probably commissioned for Jeanne d’Evreux, by her husband, King Charles IV of France, between the date of their marriage in 1325 and his death three years later.

At first glance, this tiny prayer book, the size of each vellum folio is 9.2 x 6.2 cm, with not a trace of gold, might seem an unlikely possession for a queen of France. The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux, however, offers much more than meets the eye. This manuscript consists of 209 folios, containing not only twenty-five full-page paintings featuring depictions of significant moments from the Infancy and Passion of Christ, but also scenes portraying the life of Saint Louis, a notable ancestor of Queen Jeanne. Additionally, the margins of the manuscript are adorned with an astonishing array of nearly 700 illustrations. These illustrations vividly portray a diverse tapestry of medieval Parisian society, including bishops, beggars, street dancers, maidens, and musicians. Furthermore, interspersed among these depictions are whimsical creatures from the realm of pure fantasy, such as apes, rabbits, dogs, and other enigmatic beings. The combination of meticulously crafted religious imagery and glimpses into the vibrant urban life of medieval Paris makes The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux an extraordinary testament to the artistic and cultural milieu of the time. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/470309

Diminutive in size, the Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux was made between 1324 and 1328 https://www.facsimilefinder.com/facsimiles/hours-jeanne-evreux-facsimile
Jean Pucelle, French, active Paris, 1319–34
The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux, Queen of France, Folios 15v-16r, The Betrayal of Christ and The Annunciation to Mary, 1324-28, Grisaille, tempera, and ink on vellum, Single folio: 9.2 x 6.2 cm, the MET, NY, USA https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:4_Jean_Pucelle._Hours_of_Jeanne_d%27Evreux._1325-28,_Metropolitan_Museum,_New-York.jpg

While there is no positive proof establishing the identity of the artist behind the Cloisters manuscript, three extraordinary documents, Jeanne d’Evreux’s will, King Charles V’s inventory of treasures, and the successive 1401 and 1406 inventories of the collection of Jean, Duc de Berry, led scholars to accept Jean Pucelle as the artistic genius behind the manuscript’s illuminations.

Jean Pucelle was a fine Parisian manuscript illuminator of impeccable taste and refined elegance. He was a great innovator, introducing the art of Giotto and Ducio to Northern Europe. He had the ability to present sculpturally modeled figures, capture psychological expressions, and convey human emotions. Finally, Pucelle was the artist who presented ideas such as the use of naturalistic settings and narrative continuity within his miniatures.

His name became synonymous with exceptional craftsmanship and artistic excellence, but much of his life remains shrouded in mystery. However, his surviving works serve as a testament to his profound impact on the art of illumination during the medieval period, earning him a well-deserved place among the great masters of the era.

The illuminated manuscript of Jeanne d’Evreux in the Cloisters is a Book of Hours, that is, a devotional and instructional book that was popular in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. It was primarily used by laypeople, particularly wealthy individuals, for personal prayer and devotion. It was essentially a private prayer book, containing a collection of prayers, psalms, hymns, and other religious texts, often accompanied by illustrations. It was called a “Book of Hours” because it typically included a series of prayers that were meant to be recited at specific times throughout the day, corresponding to the canonical hours of the liturgical day.

The book usually began with a calendar, which listed important feast days and saints’ days. It would then include various sections, such as the Hours of the Virgin Mary, the Office of the Dead, and other prayers dedicated to specific saints or events. Each section would contain specific prayers, psalms, and readings associated with the particular devotion.

The decoration for the Calendar page in Books of Hours can vary depending on the specific manuscript and the artistic style of the time. For The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux, Pucelle employed scenes depicting the agricultural activities commonly carried out each month of the year, such as plowing, sowing seeds, or tending to crops, along with scenes of the countryside, fields, or farms. For the Month of September, the artist chose to depict the labor of harvesting or tending to the vineyards. Pucelle’s page shows workers engaged in grape harvesting and winemaking activities, such as picking grapes, stomping on them, and hungrily tasting the fruits of their labour.

Jean Pucelle, French, active Paris, 1319–34
The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux, Queen of France, Folios 9v-10r (detail), Calendar Pages for September, ca. 1324-28, Grisaille, tempera, and ink on vellum, Single folio: 9.2 x 6.2 cm, the MET, NY, USA Jean Pucelle | The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux, Queen of France | French | The Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org)

What I like most is how the illuminations created for the Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux employ a diverse range of artistic techniques. One of them is the grisaille technique, described as de blanc et noir in French, which involves using shades of gray created through hatching and cross-hatching. Grisaille, however, is not enough for Jean Pucelle. He wants to introduce vibrant colours, so along with grisaille, he adds tempera paints as well. The combination of these two techniques, known as “camaïeu gris,” results in a harmonious interplay of grayscale and color. The application of grisaille and the skillful use of tempera bring forth a visually captivating effect, enhancing the overall aesthetic appeal of the manuscript.

Overall, the Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux is not only a masterpiece of medieval art, characterized by its elegant figures, attention to detail, and a fusion of naturalistic and stylized elements. It is a valuable historical artifact as well, providing insight into the artistic, cultural, and religious practices of the French royal court during the 14th century.

Its delicate illuminations and meticulous craftsmanship make it a treasured example of medieval book art, and it continues to inspire and captivate viewers to this day.

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!