31 Days of Medieval Manuscripts · French

The Manuscript Collection of Jean de Berry – Day Seven of Medieval Manuscripts

The Annunciation from the Belles Heures by the Limbourg brothers, France, c. 1409. [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.

Instead of focusing on a manuscript or a component of one, I’ve chosen to write today about one of history’s most famous and prolific medieval collectors of manuscripts. Jean de Berry (1340-1416) was a French duke and the brother of King Charles V of France. An extremely wealthy and well-connected nobleman, Jean de Berry collected all sorts of artwork – including sculpture, tapestries, objects of vertu, castles, and other grand residences – in vast quantities, but he is best-known for his collection of illuminated manuscripts, which numbered around three hundred (Husband 12-22).

The Nativity (f. 195) from the Belles Heures by the Limbourg brothers, France, c. 1409. This is certainly a very different aesthetic from what we saw in earlier manuscripts. [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons.
Of Berry’s holdings, the two most famous manuscripts are the Tres Riches Heures (c. 1412-1416) and the Belles Heures (c. 1409), both books of hours that Berry commissioned from artists the Limbourg brothers. The Tres Riches Heures now reside at the Musee Conde in Chantilly, France, while the Belles Heures are owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. These manuscripts certainly live up to their names (“Tres Riches Heures” translated to “Very Rich Hours”, while “Belles Heures” means “Beautiful Hours”). Their level of detail and decoration is much greater than in many of the other manuscripts we’ve looked at this far. Almost every page includes an illustration of some sort; many are at least half a page in size and all are painted with a relatively high degree of naturalistic detail. Every page of the Belles Heures has an elegant foliate border. Neither manuscript shows any attempt at utilizing an economy of materials, as these borders take up a substantial portion of each page. The Tres Riches Heures in particularly utilized great quantities of blue paint, which, as I mentioned the other day, was highly-expensive and a sign of a patron’s wealth. In addition. the manuscripts are full of references to Jean de Berry’s wealth and status, including depictions of his castles in the back of landscape scenes. The Duke’s likeness even makes a cameo appearance in the image below.

The January calendar page from the Tres Riches Heures by the Limbourg brothers, France, c. 1412-1416, (f. 1v). Note the excessive use of blue paint. The Duke of Berry is the figure seated at right in the blue robe. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In addition to these two great books of hours, the Duke of Berry a Grandes Heures (“Large Hours”), Petites Heures (Small Hours), and numerous other types of manuscripts, including other types of religious text, romances, works by classical authors, and books on history, science, and philosophy (Husband 22-23).

An historiated initial “D” from the Grandes Heures of the Duke of Berry (f. 8). By Pseudo-Jacquemart, début XVe siècle [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Source: Husband, Timothy B. The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art & New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2008.

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