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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).
Saint Catherine Cycle
Saint Catherine Tended by Angels, Folio 17v
Empress Faustina, wife of emperor Maxentius, goes to visit Catherine in prison, where she sees angels tending the saint’s wounds, an astonishing sight that led to her own conversion. This rarely represented scene featuring Catherine’s beautiful nude body takes place both within and outside a complex architectural structure seen from below that appears to extend below and beyond the picture frame.
Listen to a sample from the exhibition Audio Guide:
Audio Guide Transcript
Tom Campbell: Art historian Wendy Stein.
Wendy Stein: In the scene on the left, Saint Catherine is being visited by the queen. And she had been thrown into prison and had been injured before being thrown into prison, had been beaten. So when she goes into prison, she is visited by this group of angels who tend to her and put salve on her wounds. And the queen, who’s been given access illegally, really, by the jailer, who’s just behind the queen—the queen sees these angels and she’s so struck by the vision that she decides that she is going to convert, which ultimately leads to her downfall.
In fact, the page on the right [Folio 18r] has the queen being beheaded because the king found out that she got that special access and that she had gone in. And so this is one of the unusual situations where we’re looking at a bifolium, but it actually is the correct relationship the way it would have been once the book was bound, because this would have been the center bifolio of the gathering.