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An Illuminated Year With Limbourg Brothers

Middle Ages

An Illuminated Year With Limbourg Brothers

Imagine you are an extremely rich duke who lives in the 15th century and likes books and castles. What do you do to have them both? Commission a book filled with castles, as John the Magnificent, Duke of Berry did. Obviously you would ask the most famous miniature painters from Flanders, Limburg Brothers, to make the most illustrious illuminations.

Très Riches Heures

Limbourg brothers, January, Series: Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1416, Musée Condé, Chantilly, France, limbourg brothers

Limbourg brothers, January, Series: Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1416, Musée Condé, Chantilly, France

The Très Riches Heures is the name of probably the most famous book of hours in the world. A book of hours is a prayer book with texts for each liturgical hour of the day. It often contains psalms, masses and calendars, as we can see here. Twelve pages dedicated to each month show the usual activities and customs of the month, as well as the zodiac signs of the month.

International Gothic

Limbourg brothers, July, Series: Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1416, ©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda, limbourg brothers

Limbourg brothers, July, Series: Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1416, ©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. Ojda

The illusminations are a clear example of late International Gothic style, we can see it in typically elongated figures, little or mistaken spatial depth, and elaborated ornamentation and attention to detail. Check out the lavish costumes from the January page: the Duke is sitting on the right, he is wearing a furry hat and a blue robe, coloured with the most expensive pigment made from crushed Middle Eastern stone lapis-lazuli.

Duke the Berry

Limbourg brothers, December, Series: Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1416, ©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. Ojda, limbourg brothers

Limbourg brothers, December, Series: Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1416, ©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. Ojda

Duke the Berry was a great connoisseur of arts and a fond collector of jewels, castles, works of art and exotic animals. He owned chateaux such as Saumur and Bicetre (also depicted on the pages of the calndar), rubies weighing up to 240 carats, a collection of ostriches and camels and a magnificent collection of various books like astronomical treatises, mappa mondes, and religious books.

Limbourg Brothers

Limbourg brothers, September, Series: Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1416, Musée Condé, Chantilly, France, limbourg brothers

Limbourg brothers, September, Series: Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1416, Musée Condé, Chantilly, France

Paul, Hermann and Jean were born in Nimwegen, Flanders, in the late 1370s or 1380s to an artistic family.Their father was a wood sculptor and their uncle an artist working variously for the French Queen and for the Duc de Bourgogne. The brothers  had entered into the service of the Duc de Bourgogne by 1402. By 1408 they had entered the service of Jean, Duc de Berry and worked for him until their death in the plague in 1416.

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Magda, art historian and Italianist, she writes about art because she cannot make it herself. She loves committed and political artists like Ai Weiwei or the Futurists; like Joseph Beuys she believes that art can change us and we can change the world.

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