Folio 136r

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Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry, 1405–1408/9. Herman, Paul, and Jean de 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).

Hours of the Passion
Pilate Offers to Release Christ, Folio 136r

This exciting scene takes place in a complex architectural space. Pilate addresses the crowd from an elaborate balcony, and the two thieves who will be crucified can be seen behind bars in a tower dungeon. According to custom, the Roman governor released one prisoner at Passover; the crowd asked him to free Barabbas rather than Christ.

Listen to a sample from the exhibition Audio Guide:

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Audio Guide Transcript

Tom Campbell: At this image of Pilate offering to release Christ, we’re taking a closer look at some of the colors the Limbourg brothers used, with conservator Margaret Lawson.

Margaret Lawson: During the conservation of the Belles Heures, we did some research into the pigments used and found that this particular page—the dark-green shirt in the top center was found to be orpiment and indigo, and this is a very common mixture.

Tom Campbell: That wasn’t a surprise; orpiment is a yellow that had long been used in manuscripts.

Margaret Lawson: But it had a problem in that it would darken, often. The light-green grass was found to be indigo and lead-tin yellow type one, plus white lead. And this was interesting because lead-tin yellow is much more stable. The interesting thing was to find lead-tin yellow as a new yellow that hadn’t been used before. There’s also organic yellows, but they tend to fade. But for stable pigments in the illuminations, this was a wonderful finding.

Tom Campbell: The brilliant blue of the drapery at the center is ultramarine, which the Limbourg brothers used throughout the manuscript. It’s made from the semiprecious stone lapis lazuli.

Margaret Lawson: It’s a very beautiful color. And even today, I’ve tried to match getting very expensive ultramarine to paint in the same style, and it doesn’t come close to the ultramarine in this manuscript.