Folio 173r

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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 Louis before Damietta, Folio 173r

We know that this image comes from the writings of a chronicler rather than from The Golden Legend because it depicts Louis’s victory as a king in his first crusade in 1248, before he was a saint. The distant city on the horizon is Damietta, near the mouth of the Nile. The sea is painted with touches of gold and silver to make it shimmer.

Listen to a sample from the exhibition Audio Guide:

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Audio Guide Transcript

Tom Campbell: Crammed into a tiny space on the left in this scene, the multitude of helmets give the impression of a huge army. They’re accompanying King Louis the ninth of France—Saint Louis—at the front. He’s crowned, with praying hands. The convoy is headed through an extraordinary cleft, a rocky outcropping, which doesn’t look wide enough for a boat to sail through.

Timothy Husband: This was the beginning of the First Crusade. The convoy is headed towards the North African city of Damietta, which you can see in the haze of the distance, with the walls and the rising towers. The depiction of the water is quite extraordinary, as the Limbourg brothers used not only metallic paints and glazes to achieve a kind of shimmering surface quality to the water in the heat of the noonday sun.

Tom Campbell: The text below includes, in part, a prayer for peace: “O distinguished, pious Louis, who is today triumphant, pray to Christ for peace and rest.” Today we perhaps view this scene with different eyes, as we look back upon the history of the Crusades.