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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).
Saints Paul and Anthony Cycle
Saint Paul the Hermit Sees a Christian Tempted, Folio 191r
In this highly unusual scene, Paul witnesses the shocking incident that precipitates his decision to flee Rome permanently and become a hermit in the wilderness. A lascivious and fashionably dressed young woman attempts to seduce an elegant young man, reaching her hand inside his tunic and up his thigh. While he gazes intently into her eyes, the young nobleman resists her advances by biting off his tongue and spitting the bloody tip at her.
Listen to a sample from the exhibition Audio Guide:
Audio Guide Transcript
Tom Campbell: There are many unusual scenes in the Belles Heures, but this one is especially rare. Art historian Wendy Stein.
Wendy Stein: I don’t know of it being depicted in any other manuscript. It starts out the story of the hermit saints, Paul and Anthony. And this is the hermit Saint Paul, who is on the right-hand side looking at a scene which so horrifies him that he vows that he has to go and become a hermit. And the scene that he witnesses shows a lascivious woman seated on the lap of a man who is meant to be a Christian, and she is trying to seduce him and putting her hand up his dress on his thigh. He is working so hard to resist the temptation that he has to bite off his tongue and spit it out at her. And if you look terribly closely, you can see that tiny, little, thin line of red that goes from his mouth toward her. Such a horrifying scene that Paul sees it and decides to be a hermit forever after.
Tom Campbell: The artists took great care to make that Christian man irresistibly handsome. Look at his thick, curly hair, his strong jaw and rosy cheeks.