Illumination from the Ashmole Bestiary, Monoceros and Bear (Folio21r)
We have seen Books of Hours and I provided a list of other illuminated manuscripts, most of which are liturgical and/ or devotional. However, we will now be looking at allegories called Bestiaries. In Bestiaries, an animal stands for jealousy, virginity, evil, aspects of love, depending on the subject of the masnuscripts.
We already have a post on the Phœnix (listed below) and a very short post on the Aberdeen Bestiary, the richest illuminated bestiary, and at the same time we will look at the history of printing and the history of books. We know that illuminations became our illustrations, common in children’s literature. We also know that medieval calligraphy gave us many of the fonts we still use, but there are other elements.
Although used by lay Christians, all Books of Hours, Medieval books, are religious in spirit and reflect a motivation to participate in the liturgy of the hours observed by monks. Yet, Books of Hours differ from the Liber Usualis. They are not decorated.
Other than the obligatory content, Books of Hours could include heraldic emblems, coats of arms, information necessary to its owner, genealogical information, etc.
Second, they are works of art: Illuminations and Calligraphy
Because they are shorter than the Liber usualis, Books of Hours leave room for enluminures (illuminations) and fine calligraphy, the main artistic elements of Jean de France’s “Très Riches Heures” and other luxury Books of Hours. Enluminures were miniature paintings designed to reproduce the luminosity of stained glass.
So not only did Books of Hours include liturgical, devotional and personal contents, but they are also works of art. It is mainly as works of art that they have come down to us. Illuminated pages of Books of Hours were genuine miniature paintings and were not bound, at least not originally. They were independent folios bound at a later date.
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Book of Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux (Arrest of Jesus and Annunciation) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Illuminations could be extremely costly, depending on their sophistication, the time required to illuminate the text, the pigments and other materials used to make the colours, the “paper” on which the artist(s) created his or her illuminations and, of great importance, the skills of the scribe. Let us look at the paint and the paper artists used.
The paint used by artists to decorate Books of Hours was a very durable form of gouache. The colour was made from various pigments, including expensive lapis lazuli, mixed or crushed in a binder (un liant). However, when artists used gold or silver, they usually applied it in flat sheets or a “leaf.”
The Paper: Parchment
Moreover, Books of Hours are associated to the history of paper. Now the history of paper finds its origins at an earlier date. Egyptian papyrus was manufactured in the 3rd millennium BC. In the case of Medieval Books of Hours, however, one used parchment(parchemin), a writing membrane made from the skin of sheep, goats, or calves. The finest paper was vellum (from the old French vélin, “calfskin”).
Where calligraphy is concerned, Books of Hours are an important step in the history of printing, as are illuminations, our illustrations. In calligraphy, we find the ancestors to our fonts. Accomplished scribes wrote so beautifully that the calligraphy of Books of Hours was a work of art in itself. Excellent scribes seldom made mistakes and, for the fifty or so years that followed the invention of printing, printers left room for illuminations to be inserted and, in particular, for initials to be rubricated (red) rather than “historiated.” These books are called incunables.
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Charles d’Orléans reçoit l’hommage d’un vassal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The historiated “D,” to your left, shows Charles d’Orléans (24 November 1394, Paris – 5 January 1465, Amboise) receiving homage from a subject. Painting historiated letters must have been a true challenge to miniaturists as the letters were a miniature within a miniature. Some miniaturists used a lens. Books of Hours were a collaborative project.
Ordinary and Luxury “Books of Hours”
The above-mentioned Hours of Catherine of Cleves (c. 1440), offered to her as a wedding present, is an example of a luxury book of hours. Catherine’s horæ, the Latin word for “hours,” are decorated with 158 colorful and gilded illuminations. (“Hours of Catherine of Cleves,” Wikipedia.) Miniaturists therefore spent several years preparing her wedding present. They also spent years producing the Hours of Jeanne d’Évreux, Queen of France, c. 1324–28, by Jean Pucelle (French, active in Paris, 1319–1334). Catherine’s hours are housed in the Cloisters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, N. Y. It contains twenty-five full-page miniatures and approximately seven hundred smaller enluminures and was first bought by Jean de France, Duc de Berry.
However, less affluent and, at times, poor Christians, including servants, also owned a Book of Hours. Tens of thousands Books of Hours were made. Thousands are still available. These may have had a few illuminated pages and may have been manuscripts, but the humbler Books of Hours were seldom the products of great artists. Moreover, some were printed, but occasionally the printer left spaces that could be hand coloured. These were the incunables.
“Pagan” Roots: Horæ and a Farmer’s Almanac
In my post on the Très Riches Heures, I mentioned that Books of Hours combined Christian elements, elements predating Christianity and personal information. So Books of Hours are not entirely Christian works and a secular form of the Benedictine Liber Usualis. For instance,Medieval Books of Hours use Psalms from the Old Testament. “The book of hours has its ultimate origin in the Psalter.” (See “Book of Hours,” Wikipedia.)
Books of Hours also have “pagan” roots. They were Horæ in Latin Antiquity, a word still used in the Middle Ages, and were inspired by the cycle of nature, the degree of light and darkness,[ii] and the appropriate Labours of the Months. As I mentioned in a recent post, Candlemas: its Stories & its Songs, Greek Poet Hesiod, who is believe to have been active between 750 and 650 BCE, wrote a Works and Days that Wikipedia describes as a farmer’s almanach.
In this respect, Jean de France’s Très Riches Heures de Jean de France, Duc de Berry resembles Hesiod’s Works and Days. The Très Riches Heures feature a monthly page consisting of a full-page painting and a page featuring an image, above which there is a semicircle that shows the twelve signs of the Zodiac as well as the ecclesiastical lunar calendar, full moon and new moon, yet another manner in which Books of Hours predate Christianity. As calendars, Books of Hours span civilizations, but may not contain illuminations and fine calligraphy.
In short, Medieval Books of Hours are a very rich legacy rooted in the Liber Usualis and in seasons forever new.However, this does not preclude a resemblance with Latin horæ and borrowings, some from a more distant past. Pictures predate Christianity as do calendars, almanacs, labours of the months: seasons. In this regard, Books of Hours can be linked to earlier works. They also constitute a step in the history of printing and a history of books.
I must close here, but our next step is a glance at illuminated manuscripts that are not Books of Hours. Under “Sources” below, I have mentioned Psalters. But, among illuminated books, there were Gospel Books, Responsorials, Antiphonaires, Missals, Apocalyptic books, Breviaries, hagiographic books (lives of saints) and other illuminated manuscripts.
In an earlier post, I wrote about the Fitzwilliam Book of Hours. This post is one of the related articles listed at the end of the current post. It shoud be updated. For instance, it requires embedded videos. This post is one of the related articles listed at the end of the current post. It should be updated. For instance, it requires embedded videos.
N.B. Some of the illuminations painted for Berry’s Book of Hours inspired some of the backdrops to sets used by Laurence Olivier (22 May 1907 – 11 July 1989) in his film of Shakespeare’s play Henry V which he made in 1944 on the eve of the Normandy invasion. (Online Library of Liberty.)
However, if the Duc de Berry’s name still lingers in our memory, it is because he commissioned Books of Hours from the Limbourg brothersor Gebroeders van Limburg: Herman, Pol and Johan (fl. 1385 – 1416), the most famous of which is LesTrès Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. The Limbourg brothers also contributed miniatures to a
Bible moralisée (1402-1404: 184 miniatures and 124 margins) as well as miniatures, to
We will concentrate on the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, commissioned by Jean Ier de France in 1410 and currently housed at the Musée Condé, in Chantilly, France. All three Limbourg brothers, Herman, Pol (Paul) and Johan (Jean), born in Nijmegen, now in Gelderland, in the Netherlands, worked on Jean de France’s famous Très Riches Heures, but all three died in 1416, aged 28 to 31, probably of the plague, which, in all likelihood, also took the life of their patron, the Duc de Berry.
Photo credit: Wikipedia (all images)(Please click on each picture to enlarge it.)
Completing the Manuscript
The Limbourg brothers had nearly completed their assignment before their death, but not quite. Later in the fifteenth century, an anonymous artist worked on the manuscript. It would appear this anonymous artist was Barthélemy d’Eyck, or van Eyck (FR) (c. 1420 – after 1470), called the Master of the Shadows. If indeed Barthélemy d’Eyck, or van Eyck (FR), worked on the Très Riches Heures, he did so after 1444.[i] His extremely generous patron was Renéd’Anjou (16 January 1409 – 10 July 1480).
However, completion of the manuscript is attributed to Jean Colombe (b. Bourges c. 1430; d. c. 1493) who was commissioned to complete Jean de France’s book by Charles Ier, Duc de Savoie. He worked between 1485 and 1489. The Très Riches Heures was imitated by Flemish artists in the 16th century and then disappeared for three centuries until it was found by Spinola of Genoa and later bought, in 1856, by the Condé Museum in Chantilly, France, where it is held.[ii]
The Très Riches Heures: a Calendar
However, Jean de France, duc de Berry’s Très Riches Heures differs from other Books of Hours because of the prominence of its calendar, a lay calendar. Each month of the year is depicted on a full page and these depictions constitute a remarkable record of the monthly labour of men and women, from shearing lamb to cutting wood and the brothers depicted them in minute details and astonishing accuracy. In the background, of each monthly, page we can see one of Jean de France’s many castles and hôtels. For instance, the image inserted at the top of this post shows the Château de Vincennes. In the front, dogs are eating a boar. The Limburg brothers
were among the first illuminators to render specific landscape scenes (such as the environs and appearance of their patron’s castles) with great accuracy and sensitivity.[iii]
The Limbourg Brothers: Biographical notes
The Limbourg brothers were born to artistic parents. Their grandfather had lived in Limburg, hence their name. But he had moved to Nigmegen. His son Arnold (1355-1360 – 1395-1399) was a wood-carver. Their mother, Mchtel Maelwael (Malouel) belonged to a family of heraldic painters. However, the most prominent artist in the brothers’ family was their uncle Jean Malouel, or Jan Maelwael in Dutch, who was court painter for Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. It should be noted that between 1032 and 1477, Burgundy was an enlarged Duchy of Burgundy, also called the Franco-Flemish lands.
As for the brothers themselves, Herman and Johan were sent to Paris to learn the craft of goldsmithing and upon the death of Philip the Bold, in 1604, they were hired by his brother, Jean de France. They worked in a style called International Gothic. As Jean de France, Duc de Berry’s artists, the Limbourg brothers were first assigned a long project, a Book of Hours entitled Belles Heures du Duc de Berry, containing 158 miniatures, currently housed in the Cloisters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York.
Jean de France was obviously very pleased with his Belles Heures du Duc de Berry. He showered the Limbourg brothers with gifts, the most substantial being a very large house for Paul in Bourges, France, where the three brothers resided. Johan seems to have combined a career as goldsmith and painter, at least temporarily, but he was definitely one of the three miniaturists who worked on the miniatures comprised in Jean de France’s Très Riches Heures, commissioned in 1410 or 1411. There have been attempts to attribute certain pages to a particular brother, but uncertainty lingers. I should think that Wikipedia’s list is probably mostly accurate.[iv]
A Wider Symbolism
You will notice that Les Très Riches Heures contains paintings above which there is a semicircle, the folio for each month shows the twelve Zodiac signs, the ecclesiastical lunar calendar as well as heraldic emblems and other relevant elements. Many Books of Hours are also characterized by the mille-fleurs motif borrowed from Oriental rugs brought to Europe by returning Crusaders. In Books of Hours, artists drew from elements preceding Christianity as well as Christian ones, not to mention personal elements. “Their range includes coats of arms, initials, monograms, mottoes, and personal emblems, which are used singly or in all combinations possible.”[v]
Painted in gouache on parchment (vellum), the Tr[è]s Riches Heures includes
416 pages, 131 of which have large miniatures, while many more are decorated
with border illustrations or large historiated initials, as well as 300 ornamented capital letters [also called “historiated” letters].”[vi]
As for the colors, fine pigments were used and blended by the brothers themselves into a form of gouache and, at times, they crushed lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone into a “liant,” a binding agent. They also used gold leaf. It was a delicate process done step by step on a relatively small piece of vellum (vélin), the skin of a calf (veau).
The Limburg brothers and Jean de France died before the age of thirty. Yet, their legacy is an exceptional depiction of their life and times. I am certain Jean de France marvelled at the consummate artistry of the Limburg brothers. They worked at a moment in history when perspective had not yet entered their world, except simple linear perspective.[vii] Yet their folios show the degree of dimensionality that could be achieved in the Burgundian 15th century. Therefore, their art has its own finality and it is love for what it is.
I especially like the serenity of the folios constituting the twelve months of the Calendar. The Labours of the Months do not seem an imposition but the natural activity of simple human beings reaping food and comfort from a rich land and hoping in an age were an epidemic could be devastating. Their faces and gestures do not show fear. On the contrary, they show faith. They are working so that months will grow into seasons and seasons into years that will return until they enter peacefully into the timelessness of life eternal.
N.B. Several illuminations painted for Berry’s Book of Hours inspired some of the backdrops to sets used by Laurence Olivier in his film of Shakespeare’s play Henry V which he made in 1944 on the eve of the Normandy invasion.
*When he was 53, Rubens married 16-year-old Hélène Fourment. Susanna Lunden, née Fourment, was Hélène’s sister.
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Just a few words before I continue to write about Refus global or Total Refusal (Refus Global)
Yesterday I received an email in which I was informed that my email account would be closed because I had exceeded the limit. I thought the writer was referring to my personal e-mail account, but the bulky account was my Gmail account.
I started reading the comments and realized I would be reading, approving and deleting for a long time. I therefore deleted a large number of comments, many of which had also been published by WordPress. But in the process, I learned who had subscribed to my blog. These emails have not been deleted.
The moral of the story is that one should look at one’s email accounts on a regular basis.
I apologize to my readers whose comments may not have been posted.
I have written posts on Books of Hours(see list below), a lay version of the Canonical Hours kept by monks whose Gregorian chant is extremely rich. Vatican II, the Council that promulgated a degree a laicization of liturgy, such as using a modern language instead of Latin, had to make exceptions. Gregorian chant was protected.