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Herman, Paul, and Jean de Limbourg, The Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry

Met curator Timothy B. Husband on prodigy in Herman, Paul, and Jean de Limbourg’s The Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, 1405–1408/1409.

Completed by late 1408 or early 1409, probably in Paris, "The Belles Heures," a private devotional book, was the first of two sumptuous manuscripts commissioned by the duke of Berry from the Limbourg brothers, Pol, Jean, and Herman. It is the only manuscript that they completed in its entirety. The other manuscript, "The Très Riches Heures," was left incomplete at the brothers' deaths in 1416. The richly illustrated text is amplified by unusual cycles reflecting the duke's personal interests. Using a luminous palette, the artists blended an intimate Northern vision of nature with Italianate modes of figural articulation. The keen interest in the natural world and the naturalistic means of representing it, so striking in ninety-four full-page and fifty-four column illuminations, foreshadow the work of Jan van Eyck and the ensuing generations of outstanding fifteenth-century painters in the South Netherlands.

View this work on metmuseum.org.

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Created by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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  • hopper cool style avatar for user Madeliv
    Would the brothers do the calligraphy and the illustrations or would they only do the drawings ?
    (7 votes)
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    • female robot grace style avatar for user Walks on the Clouds
      This paragraph, from the Met Museum blog called "The Art of Illumination," answers your question:
      "While the Limbourg brothers painted all the illuminations (and one border, that for the Annunciation on Folio 30r) in the Belles Heures themselves, other artists were also involved in its overall creation. The sumptuous borders of every page were executed by anonymous artists; still other craftsmen were employed in making the parchment, writing the text, ruling the lines, and binding the book. (See the Pen and Parchment exhibition blog to learn more about the creation of medieval manuscripts.)"
      (6 votes)
  • leaf red style avatar for user Smokie Thigpen
    What medium was used to illustrate this manuscript? Oil? Tempera?
    (4 votes)
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  • primosaur tree style avatar for user -Drakon-
    Were there many picture books like this one made then? Why is this one so special?
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

This is the Belles Heures, meaning, “beautiful Book of Hours,” an aid to private devotion, began with a calendar identifying all the major feast days and then individual saint’s days. Anyone with a manuscript Book of Hours had to have a certain means: with 172 illuminations, commissioned by Jean de France, Duke of Berry. The three Limbourg Brothers he engaged to illuminate it ranged in age from fourteen or fifteen to nineteen and twenty, clearly prodigies of the highest order. In the center of the book, the first to be illuminated, they’re struggling with their compositional arrangements, but as they progress, they become incredibly inventive. One thing that distinguishes the Belles Heures are the picture book insertions devoted either to saints or to events in Christian history that appealed to the duke. One of the images is that of a Christian being tempted by the Devil in the form of a very attractive young woman. The Limbourg brothers were trying to link the illuminations in a narrative continuum, and as they progress they come up with really extraordinarily inventive devices to enhance the cohesion of the narrative. They were amongst the very first artists in the North to introduce atmospheric perspective. They depicted the effect of light, both moon and sunlight, off of natural forms, to create a landscape more naturalistic than had ever been introduced to the North before. What the eye instantly perceives, the brain slowly processes. Studying these picture book cycles, I suddenly realized that one’s own ability to appreciate this Book as an astonishing work of art increases with our own accumulated experience. I think that was part of the process that took far longer for me than it did for the Limbourg brothers to produce it in the first place.