très riches heures du Duc de Berry.
Church. Liturgy and Ritual. Hours.
très riches heures du Duc de Berry.
Faksimile-Verlag; New York:
Harry N. Abrams, 1984. Full
color facsimile of the original manuscript, no. 65 of the Musee Conde,
Chantilly, France. Edition
limited to 980 numbered copies “… of which 350 copies are reserved
for the English-language market”.
This is no. 385. Latin
text. Issued in an acrylic
manuscript of Les très riches heures is undeniably one of the most
sumptuous and splendid books ever created.
Written in a beautiful, even hand, richly embellished with
decorated initials, and magnificently illuminated by the most gifted
artists of the late Middle Age, it has been designated by experts as one
of the most famous of all works of art.
manuscript, “The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry” is a livre d
‘ heures, a “Book of Hours”.
Developing out of the Psalter and the Breviary, the Book of Hours
was a prayer book for private devotion of the laity, with a Latin text.
Unlike the Breviary, it was much more personal in character since
it could include extra-liturgical prayers.
These prayers and meditations were meant to be recited at those
moments of the liturgical day traditionally called “hours”.
illustrations of a Book of Hours usually began with calendar miniatures,
followed by scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary and from the Passion
of Christ, concluding with representations from those saints favored by
the book’s patron. The
splendor and beauty of these miniatures gradually came to overshadow the
text of prayers. Thus Books
of Hours developed into objects of great aesthetic value, and became so
popular that they outnumbered, by the fifteenth century, all other
categories of illuminated manuscripts.
the year 1410, Jean, the Duc de Berry, entrusted Paul Limbourg and his
brothers, Hermann and Jean, with the illumination of the Très riches
heures. The final result,
though not completed by the Limbourgs, was a 416 page manuscript, with
131 exquisite miniatures lavishly decorated with gold and silver, and
216 pages containing 300 gold initials, which brimmed with ideas.
Never before had a prayer book been illuminated with such
magnificent full-page miniatures, depicting scenes in the life of the
court and the surrounding countryside.
The realism of the architectural setting is arresting, the
boldness of design unprecedented in any other manuscript of the period.
The subtle balance of color and the elegance of the drawings
enhance the beauty of these miniatures, enchanting the viewer with their
Duc de Berry, was born in 1340, the third son of King John the Good of
France. His brother Charles
became King Charles V of France, and his brothers, Louis and Philippe,
became the Dukes of Anjou and Burgundy respectively.
He was responsible for the building and restoration of numerous
luxurious estates and castles. His
personal collection included jewelry, works wrought in gold, tapestries,
and panel paintings. The
Duc de Berry’s magnificent library included many religious books:
14 Bibles, 16 psalters, 18 breviaries, 6 missals and no less than
15 books of hours. The
centerpiece of the collection, the Très riches heures, was described,
in an inventory of his estate compiled after his death in 1416, as
“…a very rich Book of Hours, executed by Pol and his brothers,
richly historiated and illuminated.
Appraised at 500 pounds…”
An extraordinary amount for an unfinished work, the book was then
transferred to the Duke of Savoy, for whom it was completed about 1485
by Jean Columbe. Subsequently,
the work changed hands several times, and in 1856 it was acquired by the
Duke of Aumale. The Duke
added it to his collection at Chantilly,
where it has remained ever since.
the Duc de Berry and the Limbourgs decided on a classical design of
full-page miniatures with three to four lines of text at the bottom of
the page and smaller miniatures the width of the columns.
Later, the miniatures were enlarged and separated from the text.
A number of these full-page miniatures contain subjects not
ordinarily found in a Book of Hours, such as an “Anatomical Man” or
a “Plan of Rome”.
about this manuscript, which was destined to be of the greatest
importance to the future of painting in Western Europe, is impressive.
There is its splendid array of color and form, its delightful
clarity and color, as well as the enchantment and vitality of its
illustrations. Not only the
full-page miniatures but also the illuminated initials are works of art
overwhelming excellence of Les très riches heures du Duc de Berry has
been acknowledged for centuries. Often
called the crowning achievement of book illumination, this manuscript is
even more – it is a milestone in the history of painting.
by Jarron Jewell