15th Century

Belles Heures of Jean, Duke of Berry

Les Grandes heures de Jean de France, duc de Berry, Bibliothèque nationale, Paris.  Paris, Draeger frères, Vilo, 1971.   
ND 3363 B5 G7 Special Collections Oversize


This is larger than any of the Duke’s other Book of Hours and was probably illuminated mainly by the Pseudo-Jacquemart. John of Valois (1340-1416) was the third son of King John II of France and Bonne of Luxemburg; amongst his siblings were Charles V, King of France, Louis I, King of Naples and Philip II (Philip the Bold), Duke of Burgundy. His several titles included Duke of Berry and Auvergne and Count of Poitiers and Montpensier. He was a notable patron who commissioned among other works, several Book of Hours. The Petites Heures (Bibliothèque Nationale, ms. lat. 18.014) is believed to have been executed before 1388, Belles Heures (finished 1408), Les Grandes Heures finished around 1409, and the Très Riches Heures, considered by many to be the most beautiful and now in Brussels (Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique, ms. 11060-61) was painted for the Duke under the supervision of Jacquemart de Hesdin.  All are important tools for studying manuscript painting of the Court of France of the 14th century.  

For his most personal Book of Hours, the Belles Heures, the Duke of Berry engaged the most famous book painters at this time, the Limbourg brothers Pol, Herman and Jehanequin. All the 172 miniatures of the Limbourg brothers have a vivacity and colorfulness that secure for them a place in the history of illumination. Every miniature and every page of the text of the Belles Heures of Jean Duke of Berry is surrounded by decorative filigree scrollwork with up to 500 gold glowing ivy leaves. But even this sumptuous decoration is excelled by the playfully arranged luminous elements on the prime pages introducing the Office of the Virgin and the Office of the Dead. This luxurious decoration, which is extraordinarily exuberant even for a Book of Hours from the ducal library, achieves perfection in the use of countless ornamented initials that extend over one or several lines and are painted in red, blue and glowing gold - the colours of the ducal crest. The combination of gold leaf and shell gold in the miniatures creates permanently glowing and glittering effects.

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