Belles Heures of Jean Duke of Berry

Acc. No. 54.1.1 - Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)

Alternate Titles:

Les Belles Heures du Duc de Berry, Das Schöne Stundenbuch des Herzogs von Berry

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Codiology

Alternate Titles

Les Belles Heures du Duc de Berry
Das Schöne Stundenbuch des Herzogs von Berry

Type
Extent / Format

448 pages / 23.8 x 17.0 cm

Origin
Date
Around 1404
Style
Genre
Language
Patron

Jean, Duke of Berry (1340-1416)

Artist / School

Paul, Herman and Jean Limburg

Illustrations

172 miniatures of the Limburg brothers. Every miniature and every page of the text is surrounded by decorative filigree scrollwork with up to 500 gold glowing ivy leaves

Short description

Les Belles Heures du Duc de Berry, so reads the title of one of the most exceptional and richly designed manuscripts that was ever produced. The work was made between 1405 and 1409 for Jean de Valois, Duke of Berry. The private devotional book was designed by his three court artists, probably the most famous book artists of their time, namely the Brothers Limburg. Each page of the work shows breathtaking illustrations. The impressive full-page miniatures of the manuscript inspired the painting of such Old Dutch artists as Jan van Eyck.

Facsimile editions available

Description

Belles Heures of Jean Duke of Berry

Sometime between 1405 and 1409, one of the most beautiful and luxurious illuminated manuscripts that still survives to this day emerged in Paris. The Belles Heures du Duc de Berry is the private prayer and devotional book of Jean de Valois and was made by the famous Limburg Brothers. It is one of the highest-quality books produced by the three brothers Paul, Johan, and Herman as well as in all of medieval Europe. The richly-illustrated codex contains seven incomparable pictorial cycles. These are devoted to Christian figures or important ecclesiastical events, which was of significant meaning for the Duke of Berry. The 172 impressive miniatures altogether became forerunners for the outstanding Dutch painting of the 15th century, and served as templates for the work of Jan van Eyck.

At the Behest of a Passionate Book Lover

Jean de Valois, Duke of Berry, is known to this day as one of the greatest collectors and patrons of exceptional artistic treasures and precious illuminated manuscripts of the entire Middle Ages. The Duke owned one of the most luxurious libraries in France. During his reign, he constantly expanded his precious collection of books, gave commissions to the most gifted artists of his time and acquired some of the most valuable manuscripts that have survived. Each work of the over 300 manuscripts comprising his library at the end of his life was of exceptionally high quality. Alongside what is probably his most famous document, the Très Riches Heures, the Belles Heures is considered to be an absolute masterwork and highlight of the ducal book treasure chamber.

The Art of the Limburg Brothers

The Belles Heures was made by the three most talented and popular illuminators in those days, namely the three brothers Paul, Johan, and Herman Limburg. The three Dutch brothers were born in the last quarter of the 14th century and already encountered artistic craftwork in their childhood. Their father, who worked as a woodcutter, sent his sons to Paris to apprentice with goldsmiths. Here they entered the service of the Duke of Burgundy ca. 1400, and worked as court artists and illuminators. After the death of their first patron in the year 1404, all three brothers were appointed court painters by the brother of the Duke of burgundy, Jean de Valois. In the same year, the unbelievably talented artists began with their collective work on a personal book of hours for their new patron.

Enrapturing Illumination

One of the most fantastic illuminated manuscripts in French history originated from a unique collaboration between the three brothers and their exceptionally generous patron. The 172 miniatures of the Belles Heures shine in a never before seen splendor of color and are quite extravagantly adorned with precious gold leaf. Every excitingly life-like picture and also every text page of the work is surrounded by magnificently shimmering decorative tendrils and ivy leaves. Countless luminously glittering elements of décor introduce important text passages and multi-lined decorative initials in the colors of the ducal coat of arms – red, blue, and gold – round out the splendid impression of the manuscript. Impressive images, yet never depicted in a similar form, characterize the miniature adornment of the book of hours. Thus a pictorial cycle of four miniatures mirrors the great veneration Jean de Valois had for his namesake, John the Baptist. No other illuminated manuscript of that time contained a similar pictorial cycle. Consequently, the elaborate variety of design, but also the selection of visual motifs for the Belles Heures, has ensured that the work will forever remain an unsurpassed unicum in the history of illumination.

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