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How one of the best books of the Middle Ages appeared: "The luxurious book of hours of the Duke of Berry"
How one of the best books of the Middle Ages appeared: "The luxurious book of hours of the Duke of Berry"

The Limburgsky brothers - Paul, Jean and Erman - were miniature painters of the XIV-XV centuries. By common laborious work they managed to create one of the finest illustrated books of the late Gothic period - "The luxurious book of hours 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. By the end of the era, the population of Europe had declined several times. However, at the same time, there was a significant rise in culture, which in many respects formed the foundation of contemporary art.

Brothers biography

Brothers Paul, Jean and Erman came from the city of Nijmegen, now part of the Netherlands, were born into 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 a devoted bibliophile, the Duke of Amal, acquired the Duke of Berry's Sumptuous Hourly Book, which facilitated the study of the manuscript and its authors. The exact birth years of the brothers are unknown. All three are believed to have died as a result of the plague that struck Europe in 1416, at the age of about 30. This was the average life expectancy in the Middle Ages. 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. The training - typical of artisans in the Middle Ages - lasted about seven years. However, these were turbulent times, and just two years later, the boys were sent home in the midst of the plague (1399). On the way home to Nijmegen, they were captured and demanded a ransom for them. The poor recently widowed mother had no way of paying for her children's freedom. And only half a year later, thanks to the patron saint of their uncle, the Duke of Burgundy, who paid half of the ransom (the other half was brought in 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 "Moral Bible", which is now in the Paris National Library. After the death of the Duke of Burgundy, the brothers went into the service of his brother, the Duke of Beria. It was during this period that the "Luxurious Book of Hours of the Duke of Berry" was created with its 130 miniatures adorned with gold, silver and more than 3000 gilded initials. The Book of Hours became a landmark in late Gothic miniature and the greatest masterpiece of Jean, Paul and Erman. The history of the Limburg brothers is inextricably linked with the rich and powerful Duke of Berry - the main patron of art and a distinguished collector, as well as the manuscripts they created for him.

Jean Berry (1340-1416) - customer of the "Magnificent Book of Hours"

What is a book of hours

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 subject of the month, as well as the signs of the zodiac. This was followed by a cycle of spiritual chants, which consisted of biblical readings and prayers. The Book of Hours was decorated with a magnificent expensive binding. The Book of Hours in the XIV-XVI centuries served as a wonderful gift in honor of a wedding, the birth of the first child or other celebration.The miniatures of the calendar, depending on the season, from the work and entertainment of a particular month, differ in color and rhythm. For example, January is a festive, bright, noisy, large table covered with a white tablecloth, an abundance of white people in clothes in the foreground, shaded with large spots of blue, is a symbol of snow and winter. Each presentation of the month in the book of hours is accompanied by a corresponding calendar.

Composition of the book of hours

The Luxurious Book of Hours contains a number of full-page images, including calendar pages, which depict agricultural scenes where happy peasants reap their crops. 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 depicted in the book of hours. For example, in the same January, we see the image of the duke sitting at the head of the table during the exchange of 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 himself to the duke, such as a golden lily in blue circles above the duke. The background is decorated with tapestries with knights emerging from the castle.

Meanwhile, the February page takes us into a cold winter background. First of all, the city covered with snow is striking. Elements of the plot - a peasant with a donkey walking along the road, in the center of the page is a peasant diligently chopping wood. In the foreground is a small wooden house with a hostess and other family members keeping warm from the cold.

June July August September October November December

The inclusion of the zodiacal system in the book of hours is especially curious. 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 because the stars were inextricably linked to the agricultural calendar. Even the church calendar used the signs of the zodiac to calculate the holidays. "The Duke of Berry's Sumptuous Hourly Book" for many centuries has remained a shining example of the expression of the late Gothic style in literature.

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