|Jean Duc de Berry from January detail, Les Très Riches Heures|
It has been written that Jean de Berry had an interest in astrology. This, indirectly, is what led me to read about him. The Duc became patron of three artist brothers from the Netherlands: Paul, Hermann and Jean Limbourg, all born sometime between the late 1370s, early 1380s into a family with artistic talent. The brothers entered the service of Duc de Berry in 1408. Between 1412 and 1416 they created a beautiful, now world-famous, illuminated manuscript for the Duc: Les Très Riches Heures (roughly translated, The Magnificent Book of Hours). The three brothers all died in 1416, as did Jean Duc de Berry - no doubt victims of the plague then devastating Europe. The uncompleted part of the manuscript, possibly the last month of the year and general embellishments, were finished by other artists.
Vibrant colours used in the manuscript, and elsewhere, were from paint prepared from minerals, plants or chemicals, mixed with either arabic or tragacinth gum to bind. Vert de flambé, a green made from crushed flowers mixed with massicot, and azur d'outrême; an ultramarine blue made from crushed lapis-lazuli are two examples.
One section of Les Très Riches Heures comprises 12 paintings representing each month of the year. Such a monthly depiction was a common inclusion in Books of Hours, Christian devotional books popular in the Middle Ages. The Limbourgs added to each of their depictions of medieval French life through the year, a relevant portion of the zodiac circle. Also included in the manuscript was a piece of artwork most astrology buffs will be familiar with: The Anatomy of Man
The two human figures are derived from Italian Venus motifs. It is not certain whether the brothers encountered these motifs during their travels in Italy, or in one of the many sketchbooks that made the rounds throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. The graceful posture, also known as the S-posture is characteristic of the period, and today is usually referred to as 'International Gothic'. The painting depicts two people - a young woman with blond hair and a young man with dark hair. The purpose of this picture is to show which constellations influence the various parts or organs of the body. It is a veritable crash course in medical astrology. The texts in the four corners connect the constellations with the four humours that determine human character as well as the four heavenly wind directions and the two genders (male/female).
For all twelve illustrations of the January to December illuminations, see this Wikipedia page , and click on each of the small images for enlarged versions. Here are two samples, one showing peasant life, the other life for the aristocracy.
|FEBRUARY - Peasants warming the cockles of their (somewhat exposed) whatevers|
|AUGUST - Falconry for the Aristocrats|