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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).
Suffrages of the Saints
Saint Nicholas Saves Travelers at Sea, Folio 168r
In one of the most dramatic scenes in this section of the manuscript, a ship veers wildly out of control in a stormy sea, its mast already broken and the sailors reacting emotionally. Saint Nicholas grasps the ship’s crow’s nest to steady the vessel, and already the stormy sky at right is resolving to the serene blue at upper left. The corkscrew waves painted in silver, white, and blue shimmer on the page.
Listen to a sample from the exhibition Audio Guide:
Audio Guide Transcript
Tom Campbell: This roiling sea storm is so dramatic that we were tempted to add sound effects of thunder and splashing waves. But we resisted. And maybe you can hear them anyway, as this boat pitches to the side. The tossing water is depicted as rows of strangely curlicued waves. In the sky appears Saint Nicholas, patron saint of sailors, to save this boat full of frightened travelers. In the center, one man clutches at the broken mast. Another begins to board a lifeboat, his head down.
The Limbourg brothers took delight in the different reactions to the storm and in the details of the boat. Note its keenly observed underside. The back part of the vessel turns up, as if bending with the storm. The artists clearly relished opportunities to depict the sea.