“The Luxury Theologian of the Duke of Berry”
The Limburg brothers – Paul, Jean and Ehrman – were miniature painters of the 14th-15th centuries. By common labor-intensive work, they managed to create one of the most beautiful illustrated books of the late Gothic period – “The Luxurious Hourly Book of the Duke of Berry”.
The magnificent oracle of the Duke of Berry is one of the most famous medieval illustrated manuscripts.
The early period of the late Middle Ages is controversial: it accounts for the largest epidemic (plague) and the longest war of that time. Towards the end of the era, the population of Europe declined several times. However, at the same time, there was a significant upsurge of culture, which in many respects formed the foundation of modern art.
The brothers Paul, Jean and Erman came from the city of Nijmegen, now part of the Netherlands, and were born in a creative family (their father was a sculptor, and their maternal uncle was a famous artist who served in the palace of the Duke of Burgundy). From the mid-1400s to the mid-1800s, the brothers ’legacy was lost until, in 1856, the faithful bibliophile, the Duke of Amal, acquired the“ Luxurious Hourly Book of the Duke of Berry, ”which contributed to the study of the manuscript and its authors. The exact birth years of the brothers are unknown. It is believed that all three died as a result of the plague that struck Europe in 1416, at the age of about 30 years. This was the average life expectancy in the Middle Ages. And during this period, the brothers managed to create a number of complex and magnificent works.
The brothers’ creative career began when they were sent to study with a Parisian jeweler. Training – typical of artisans in the Middle Ages – lasted about seven years. However, these were turbulent times, and only two years later the boys were sent home at the height of the plague epidemic (1399). On the way home to Nijmegen, they were captured and demanded a ransom for them. The poor recently widowed mother had no way to pay for the freedom of her children. And only after half a year, thanks to the patron of their uncle, the Duke of Burgundy, who paid half the ransom (the other half was paid by artists and jewelers), the brothers were released. After his release, the Duke of Burgundy made the brothers court miniaturists and instructed them to write the “Ethical Bible”, which is now in the Paris National Library. After the death of the Duke of Burgundy, the brothers went to the service of his brother, the Duke of Beria. It was during this period that the “Luxurious Watch of the Duke of Berry” was created with its 130 miniatures decorated with gold, silver and more than 3,000 gilded initials. The Hour Book became a landmark of late Gothic miniature and the greatest masterpiece of Jean, Paul and Ehrman. The history of the Limburg brothers is inextricably linked with the rich and powerful Duke of Berry – the main patron of art and a noble collector, as well as the manuscripts that they created for him.
What is a watch book?
As a rule, handwritten books with a prayer book were called watch books or watchmakers. On the first pages was a calendar, which was accompanied by illustrations on the theme of the month, as well as zodiac signs. This was followed by a cycle of spiritual chants, consisting of biblical readings and prayers. The watch book was adorned with a magnificent expensive binding. The Book of Hours in the XIV-XVI centuries served as a wonderful gift in honor of the wedding, the birth of the firstborn, or another celebration. The thumbnails of the calendar, depending on the time of year, from the work and entertainment of a particular month, differ in color and rhythm. For example, January – a festive, bright, noisy, large table covered with a white tablecloth, an abundance of white in the clothes of people in the foreground, shaded by large spots of blue – a symbol of snow and winter. Each representation of the month in the hours list is accompanied by a corresponding calendar.
The composition of the watch book
There are a number of full-page images in The Luxury Watch, including calendar pages that depict agricultural scenes where happy peasants are harvesting. In the background are castles and landscapes, which were part of the possessions of the customer himself – the Duke of Berry. The customer himself is also shown in the book. For example, in the same January, we see an image of a duke sitting at the head of a table while exchanging gifts. The page is decorated with a magnificent table with many dishes – a sign of the duke’s wealth and good taste. You can also find heraldic motifs – attributes of the duke to the duke himself, such as a golden lily in blue circles above the duke. Tapestries with knights coming out of the castle adorn the background.
Particularly curious is the inclusion of the zodiacal system in the watch. For each page of the calendar, the corresponding astrological sign is shown at the top of the page in the form of a lunette. This is due to the fact that the stars were inextricably linked with the agricultural calendar. Even the church calendar used zodiac signs to calculate holidays.
Over the course of many centuries, the час Luxurious Hourglass of the Duke of Berry ’remains a shining example of the expression of late Gothic style in literature.