Tres Riches Heures for the Duc de Berry, by Limbourg brothers, begun 1413-16, Chantilly, Musee Conde

Tres Riches Heures for the Duc de Berry, by Limbourg brothers, begun 1413-16, Chantilly, Musee Conde


Tres Riches Heures August Limbourg Duc de Berry c1413-16

AUGUST The month of hawking; the nobles, carrying falcons, are
going hunting while in the background peasants are harvesting
and swimming in the river. Behind them is the Chateau

The Tres Riches Heures is the classic example of a medieval book of hours. This was a collection of the text for each liturgical hour of the day – hence the name – which often included other, supplementary, texts. Calendars, prayers, psalms and masses for certain holy days were commonly included.
The pictures in this directory are from the calendar section of the Tres Riches Heures. This was painted some time between 1412 and 1416 and is arguably the most beautiful part of the manuscript; it is certainly the best known, being one of the great art treasures of France. In terms of historical and cultural importance, it is certainly equal to more famous works such as the Mona Lisa, marking the pinnacle of the art of manuscript illumination.

The Tres Riches Heures was painted by the Limbourg brothers, Paul, Hermann and Jean. They came from Nimwegen in what is now Flanders but were generally referred to as Germans. Very little is known about them; they are believed to have been born in the late 1370s or 1380s and were born into an artistic family, their father being a wood sculptor and their uncle being an artist working variously for the French Queen and for the Duc de Bourgogne.
They seem to have followed in their uncle’s footsteps and by 1402 had entered into the service of the Duc de Bourgogne as artists. By 1408 they had entered the service of Jean, Duc de Berry, one of the most notable (and richest!) art lovers in France. They are known to have executed several other pieces of work apart from the Tres Riches Heures but most of these, with the major exception of the Tres Belles Heures, seem to have been lost. In around February 1416 all three Limbourg brothers died before the age of thirty, apparently killed by an epidemic.

Jean de Berry was one of the highest nobles in 15th-century France – his brothers were King Charles V, the Duc d’Anjou and the Duc de Bourgogne, and his nephews were King Charles VI and the Duc d’Orleans. He was inevitably involved in politics as a result of his position and was identified with the Armagnac anti-Burgundian faction, as a result of which his property was attacked on several occasions by pro-Burgundian mobs. (On one such occasion, in 1411, his Chateau de Bicetre was burned to the ground, destroying many of the works of the Limbourgs). In 1416 he died, apparently broken-hearted at the destruction of the French monarchy at Agincourt the previous year.
He was the medieval world’s greatest connoisseur of the visual arts, with a particular fondness for jewels, castles, works of art and exotic animals. Among his extraordinarily varied collection were chateaux such as Saumur and Bicetre, rubies weighing up to 240 carats, a collection of ostriches and camels and – most importantly from our point of view – a magnificent collection of books. He owned astronomical treatises, mappa mondes, and a large number of religious books: 14 Bibles, 16 psalters, 18 breviaries, 6 missals and no less than 15 Books of Hours, including of course the Tres Riches Heures.

The Limbourgs used a wide variety of colours obtained from minerals, plants or chemicals and mixed with either arabic or tragacinth gum to provide a binder for the paint. Amongst the more unusual colours they used were vert de flambe, a green obtained from crushed flowers mixed with massicot, and azur d’outreme, an ultramarine made from crushed Middle Eastern lapis-lazuli, used to paint the brilliant blues. (This was, of course, extremely expensive!)
The extremely fine detail which was the characteristic feature of the Limbourgs needed extremely fine brushes and, almost certainly, lenses. Later additions to the Tres Riches Heures carried out by the late 14th- century artist Jean Colombe were carried out in a rather less delicate way. The calendars, however, were mostly painted by the Limbourgs; only November includes a substantial amount of Colombe’s work.

This is a brief list explaining the subjects of the calendar illustrations.

JANUARY The month of giving New Years’ gifts (a custom which seems
to have died out now). Jean de Berry himself can be seen
on the right, wearing the brilliant blue robe.

FEBRUARY Winter in a peasant village. The inhabitants of a farm are
shown warming themselves by the fire, while in the background
daily life – cutting wood, taking cattle to the market – goes
on as normal.

MARCH The year’s first farm work, sowing and ploughing and suchlike.
The chateau in the background is that of Lusignan, one of
the Duc’s favourites.

APRIL The arrival of spring, hope and new life – the grass is green
and a newly betrothed couple are exchanging rings in the
foreground, accompanied by friends and family. The chateau is
another one of the Duc’s, that of Dourdan.

MAY The May jaunt, a pageant celebrating the “joli mois de Mai”
in which one had to wear green garments known as livree de
mai. The riders are young noblemen and women, with princes
and princesses being visible. In the background is a chateau
thought to be the Palais de la Cite in Paris.

JUNE Harvest time – the peasants are moving the meadow in
unison, with the Hotel de Nesle, the Duc’s Parisian
residence, in the background.

JULY More of the harvest; the sheep are being shorn and the
hay is being reaped. The chateau behind them is that which
formerly stood on the Clain at Poitiers.

AUGUST The month of hawking; the nobles, carrying falcons, are
going hunting while in the background peasants are harvesting
and swimming in the river. Behind them is the Chateau

SEPTEMBER Probably the most famous of the calendar images. The grapes
are being harvested by the peasants and carried into the
beautifully detailed Chateau de Saumur.

OCTOBER Tilling and sowing are being carried out by the peasants,
in the shadow of the Louvre – Charles V’s royal palace in

NOVEMBER This is the only calendar image executed by Colombe; the
Limbourgs painted only the zodiacal tympanum above it. The
picture shows the autumn acorn harvest, with a peasant
knocking down throwing sticks to knock down the acorns on
which his pigs are feeding.

DECEMBER In the forest of Vincennes, fabled for its game, a wild-boar
hunt has caught a boar which is being torn apart by the
boarhounds. In the background is the Chateau de Vincennes,
long a residence of French royalty.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.