Above: Folio 1r, Folio 97v, and Folio 149r from the Belles Heures of Jean of France, duc de Berry, 1405–1408/9. Herman, Paul, and Jean Limbourg (Franco-Netherlandish, active in France by 1399–1416). French; Made in Paris. Ink, tempera, and gold leaf on vellum; 9 3/8 x 6 5/8 in. (23.8 x 16.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1).
Welcome to the journey through the illuminated pages of the Belles Heures manuscript, occasioned by the current exhibition The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. While the exhibition is on view, now through June 13, 2010, I will post weekly discussions of one or more sections of the manuscript. I welcome your comments or questions—about the weekly posts or about the exhibition itself. (See About This Blog for more information about submitting comments.) Above all, I hope you will enjoy the richness of images presented here from the pages of the glorious Belles Heures; see Manuscript Pages for a complete list of images of the illuminations from this magnificent manuscript.
As we look together at the sections and pages in detail, we’ll find sumptuous color and delicate line; elegant, swaying postures and violent, bloody action; landscapes rendered with a new sense of verisimilitude and patterned backgrounds rooted in medieval tradition. We will not only see gold on every page, but also human expression and the Christian iconography of divine salvation.
A special advantage of this online presentation is that we’re able to look at all the pages in the original order of the bound manuscript. In the exhibition galleries, the sections of the manuscript are presented in order, but—because of the nature of how books are made—the physical pages are not. In the galleries, the unbound pages of the manuscript are seen as bifolia. A bifolium is a folded sheet of parchment comprising four pages. Manuscripts are made by binding together a series of quires, or gatherings; each quire is composed of several sheets of parchment folded in the middle and sewn together. If you imagine four sheets of parchment folded and gathered in this way, you can see that the first page is actually on the same original sheet as the last page. Accordingly, in the exhibition, the leaf with the calendar page for January (Folio 2r) also includes the page for December (Folio 13r).
Manuscripts are either paginated (a number for every page) or foliated (a number for every folio). The Belles Heures is foliated. Each bifolium has two folios, and each folio has a recto and a verso. (Rectos are on the right, versos on the left.) In the reproductions here, every image from the manuscript is identified by its folio number and labeled either recto (”r”) or verso (”v”). (For more about book construction, watch the video The Structure of a Medieval Manuscript on www.getty.edu, or read the essay “The Art of the Book in the Middle Ages” in the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.)
My sequential introduction to the Belles Heures—and to books of hours in general—relies on the work of a few scholars whose publications I would like to acknowledge and recommend to anyone interested in further research. For the Belles Heures itself, the now fundamental and indispensable work is The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry by Timothy B. Husband, curator of the current exhibition. The seminal work on the art of the Limbourg brothers and the patronage of Jean de Berry is by Millard Meiss. For information about books of hours in general, the best source is Roger Wieck. All of these books have informed my writing here, and I am grateful to their authors. (See detailed citations below.)
The major sections I will discuss, in order, are: Calendar Pages; The Saint Catherine Cycle; Prayers to the Virign and The Hours of the Virgin; The Seven Penitential Psalms; The Great Litany and the Hours of the Cross; Diocrès, Bruno, and Carthusians and the Office of the Dead; The Hours of the Passion; The Suffrages of the Saints and Heraclius and the True Cross; The Story of Saint Jerome; The Saints Paul and Anthony Cycle; and Masses, Prayers, and the Story of Saint John.
A few of the texts and some of the pictures included here fall outside these major sections of the manuscript. One of these is the first page, the ex libris shown above (see full-size image), proclaiming that the manuscript belongs to Jean de Berry. While the text does not name the manuscript as the Belles Heures, we know that the title comes from the time of the duke. Like many members of his age and class, Jean de Berry and his staff kept meticulous records and inventories of his collections, including the description “Item, unes belles Heures, très bien et richement historiées…,” which goes on to indicate the order of the pages that matches the Belles Heures.
—Wendy A. Stein, Research Associate, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
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, 2008.
Meiss, Millard. French Painting in the Time of Jean de Berry. 5 vols. New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1967, 1968, 1974.
Wieck, Roger S. Time Sanctified: The Book of Hours in Medieval Art and Life. New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1988.
———Painted Prayers: The Book of Hours in Medieval and Renaissance Art. New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1997.