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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).
The Story of Saint Jerome
Saint Jerome in a Woman’s Dress, Folio 184v
This rarely depicted bizarre story is described in The Golden Legend and reads as a narrative in two episodes, from right to left. A practical joke was played on the strict Jerome by his fellow monks: a dress was placed by his bed as he slept, and when he woke for pre-dawn prayer at matins he put it on, then went into church wearing it. Two monks at left whisper at the strange sight. The elaborate architecture articulates the two scenes.
Listen to a sample from the exhibition Audio Guide:
Audio Guide Transcript
Tom Campbell: This is from one of the so-called picture book sections, added within the Book of Hours to allow the Limbourg brothers greater rein in their approach to visual narrative. Indeed, this scene was certainly not part of any standard prayer book. It’s an episode from the medieval book of saints’ lives called The Golden Legend. On the right, we see a monk with a hidden face holding a blue garment. He’s sneaking into Jerome’s bedchamber as he sleeps. It’s a practical joke on the saint, who was known by his fellow monks as a strict disciplinarian. The blue garment is a dress, and it’s placed where Jerome will slip it on in his early morning drowsiness as he’s called to first prayers. At the left, we see him entering the church as other monks look on in mockery.
The inscription tells what happened next: “He was derided by them at matins to such madness that he fled the place.”