Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (“The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry”) is a livre d’heures — a “Book of Hours”, commissioned by Duke of Berry in the Year of Our Lord 1410. Book of Hours is a prayer book for private devotion, with a Latin text. These prayers and meditations were meant to be recited at those moments of the liturgical day traditionally called “hours”.
The illustrations of a Book of Hours usually began with calendar miniatures, followed by scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary and from the Passion of Christ, concluding with representations from those saints favored by the book’s patron.
By the fifteenth century, Books of Hours became so popular that they outnumbered, all other categories of illustratedmanuscripts.
The splendor and beauty of miniatures gradually came to overshadow the text of prayers. Thus Duke of Berry’s Book of Hour developed into objects of great aesthetic value in its own right.
131 exquisite miniatures lavishly decorated with gold and silver, and 216 pages containing 300 gold initials in a 416 page manuscript… Sophistication of the late Gothic French painting, deeply understood Italian art tradition and wealth of realistic observations foreshadowing the development of the Northern Renaissance… Who painted those astounding masterpieces?
Paul Limbourg and his brothers, Hermann and Jean, mostly. In 1416, when the Duke died, all traces of the three talented brothers were lost. Presumably the three Limbourgs perished in a plague outbreak the same year their patron died. They were very young.
Calendar miniatures in The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry:
Never before had a prayer book been illustrated with such magnificent full-page miniatures, depicting scenes in the life of the court and the surrounding countryside. The realism of the architectural setting is arresting, the boldness of design unprecedented in any other manuscript of the period.