The Patron: Jean de France, Duc de Berry

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Jean de France, Duc de Berry (1340–1416) was the son, brother, and uncle of three successive kings of France and was himself regent of the country for a time. His lifetime was bracketed by two of the largest battles of the Hundred Years’ War between France and England. Today, Jean de France is remembered not for his royal Valois pedigree nor for his role as a ruler, but rather for his position as one of the great art collectors of all time.

While most famously known as the patron of magnificent manuscripts, Jean de Berry’s collections also comprised a wide range of works, including castles, jewelry, and even hunting dogs. He is credited with having built or renovated seventeen chateaux (some with associated chapels), which he filled with tapestries, furnishings, sculpture, and works in stained glass. Fascinated with antiquity, he collected antique coins and cameos, and commissioned medals to be made in the antique manner. He prized the pieces called joyaux—objects of goldsmith work encrusted with gems and enamel—whether in the form of functional objects, like salt cellars, devotional pieces, including portable altarpieces, or items of personal adornment, such as brooches.

The aesthetic of such precious objects found expression also in the pages of manuscripts commissioned by the duke. The Belles Heures is adorned with pure gold on every page, and some of its rich colors are derived from gemstones (see example). Pictorial effects like the shimmer associated with enamel find their way into illuminations. The current exhibition of the Belles Heures places it alongside examples of other types of objects collected and commissioned by Jean de Berry, shedding new light on the collector, his collections, and his time.

For more about Jean de Berry, see the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.