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The “Très Riches Heures des Jean Duc du Berry” is one of the most beautiful Books of Hours that has been made. While it is in the collection of the Musée Condé, Chantilly, France [1], I had problems finding it on their website. However, digging further I found interesting information on the makes, the three brothers Pol van Limburg (ca. 1375–1416), Herman van Limburg (ca. 1380–ca. 1416) and Jan van Limburg (ca. 1385–ca. 1416). They were  miniaturists from the Low Countries, born in Nijmegen as sons of Arnold van Limburg [2].

“Paris around 1400 was the centre of art and art trade. Many painters, gold and silver smiths, embroidery workers, woodcarvers, ivory workers and book illustrators lived in town, delivering good quality work. Normally they worked in workshops and places in town, employed by the nobility, the clergy or rich citizens.
Paris attracted many artisans from far away, who took influences from their home territories to the capital. When they returned, temporarily or for good, to their homelands, they had learned from what they had seen, taught and gone through. Drawings, sketches, loose miniatures, manuscripts and small painted panels were easy to take away. In this way the effects spread from Paris to other areas and vice versa. Through these joint effects an international style developed, characterized by great refinement and elegance, which we know as the International Gothic” [3].

The brothers Van Limburg, when in Paris, happened to work for Philipp of Burgundy with many detailed miniatures. In this way his brother the Duke de Berry became known with their work. “Once on assignment of the Duke Jean de Berry the brothers van Limburg made the world-famous breviaries Les Belles Heures and Les Très Riches Heures during the 15th century. The brothers used oil paint, being revolutionary in painting during that time. Their masterpieces were often imitated during that century in and outside France. After all, the brothers Van Limburg belonged to the top-10 of the all-time most famous artists, besides, among others, Rembrandt and Michelangelo” [3].

“Their patron Duc de Berry was convinced that he is fortunate with these very talented and passionate, juvenile artists from Nijmegen. Soon he gave them their first major task: they had to make a Book of Hours that would surpass all others in terms of size, in ambition, in its beauty, and in terms of preciousness of all the works in his possession.
What the brothers presented their patron did not disappoint him. In four years, while also working on other tasks, they created a series of unprecedented paintings. The Duke himself did everything to support his protegés. He created the perfect environment for the Van Limburgs to flourish, and brought them into contact with other artists and scholars who gave advice on the details of the planned visualisations. He gave them additionally free access to its own extensive art collection that could serve as an example or inspiration. The Duke finally decided himself what variable themes would be included in the script. Books of Hours had a certain tradition building, but there was increasing scope for additional topics, to be determined by the principal himself. Traditional subjects were also more broadly interpreted or otherwise detailed. The Duke wanted the visualisation of themes that were close to his heart. Examples include the cycle of the life of John the Baptist, to whom he was named, the cycle of the discovery of the True Cross on which Christ was crucified (a splinter from the cross was Jean’s most cherished relic) and the cycle of the foundation of the Carthusians, the strict monastic order which both Jean and his deceased brother Philip of Burgundy were attracted, though without reducing their lives of luxury and pomp. Remarkable are also many references in the paintings to studies and science, unique in their time, and an indication of the growing interest in knowledge, characteristic of the Duke and his time” [2]. From further text in this source it can be deduced that Très Riches Heures de Jean Duc du Berry originated between 1409 and 1416, but remained unfinished.

The copy from which the pictures have been taken is on a site dedicated to the life and works of the Van Limburg brothers [3]. Snails are present on the following pages.

MCC_Ms65:1284_f33r_

Folio 33v has an interesting variation on the ‘knight v. snail’ theme, on the left side of a miniature showing the visitation of Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary. The knight, an ape in a uniform, has his shield in his left arm, his right hand raised to throw his lance towards the snail below him. The animal has four tentacles shown, his foot somewhat crenulated as in a living specimen. Further below a second ‘runner-up’ is approaching. Both snails are dextral, and at least the second one has no tail shown.

MCC_Ms65:1284_f33r_d

 

The second occurrence is on folio 159r, which has a single snail besides an initial D. Here the animal is fully shown.

MCC_Ms65:1284_f159r_

MCC_Ms65:1284_f159r_d

Finally, folio 168v, depicts a miniature of Christ feeding an already well dressed (and perhaps not even so hungry) multitude of people. In the marginalia also a multitude (nine) snails are crawling around. They are all Helix-like and dextral, some uniformly in their brownish colour, some with reddish spiral bands. All animals are fully shown, greyish with a light rim along their foot, and all four tentacles shown.

MCC_Ms65:1284_f168v_

MCC_Ms65:1284_f168v_d1

MCC_Ms65:1284_f168v_d2

MCC_Ms65:1284_f168v_d3

MCC_Ms65:1284_f168v_d4

The snails are, except the first folio, herein very naturalistically illustrated. They give a truly 3D impression and seem to crawl off the vellum. Although this has been tried to match (e.g., here, but failed to reach the same level), these indeed are the highlight of medieval snail figures.

Notes:
[1] MCC, inv. Ms. 65/1284. This copy is “inaccessible to the public” [3].
[2] http://histoforum.net/getijdenboek/riches.htm.
[3] http://www.gebroedersvanlimburg.nl/site, different sections.

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