As is my wont, I found myself distracted by, and lost in yet another illuminated Medieval manuscript, a gorgeous Book of hours.
The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (English: The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry), is the most famous and possibly the best surviving example of French Gothic manuscript illumination, showing the late International Gothic phase of the style. It is a book of hours: a collection of prayers to be said at the canonical hours. It was created between c. 1412 and 1416 for the extravagant royal bibliophile and patron John, Duke of Berry, by the Limbourg brothers. When the three painters and their sponsor died in 1416, possibly victims of plague, the manuscript was left unfinished. It was further embellished in the 1440s by an anonymous painter, who many art historians believe was Barthélemy d’Eyck. In 1485–1489, it was brought to its present state by the painter Jean Colombe on behalf of the Duke of Savoy. Acquired by the Duc d’Aumale in 1856, the book is now MS 65 in the Musée Condé, Chantilly, France.
Consisting of a total of 206 leaves of very fine quality parchment, 30 cm in height by 21.5 cm in width, the manuscript contains 66 large miniatures and 65 small. The design of the book, which is long and complex, has undergone many changes and reversals. Many artists contributed to its miniatures, calligraphy, initials, and marginal decorations, but determining their precise number and identity remains a matter of debate. Painted largely by artists from the Low Countries, often using rare and costly pigments and gold, and with an unusually large number of illustrations, the book is one of the most lavish late medieval illuminated manuscripts.
After three centuries in obscurity, the Très Riches Heures gained wide recognition in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, despite having only very limited public exposure at the Musée Condé. Its miniatures helped to shape an ideal image of the Middle Ages in the collective imagination, often being interpreted to serve political and nationalist agendas. This is particularly true for the calendar images, which are the most commonly reproduced. They offer vivid representations of peasants performing agricultural work as well as aristocrats in formal attire, against a background of remarkable medieval architecture.
It’s two of the calendar images which caught my attention. I generally gravitate to November first, it being my birth month. Unlike most months, this had no descriptor of a place, no great estate or palace. Then I noticed February was the same. Just the name of the month. These are the two oddest of the calendar leaves, too.
This is November. Okay, out with the pigs hunting truffles, or just letting the pigs stuff themselves silly on whatever that is on the ground. The pigs certainly look happy over their master’s inattention, and it’s that inattention which baffles me. What in the hell is he glaring at, with such a posture? His gaze goes directly to the tree tops, where I’m afraid I can’t spy anything ominous at all. I guess this made sense way back when, but it doesn’t make sense to me.
Now we visit February, and warming genitals by the fire:
There’s all manner of wonderful weirdness in this one. That massive bed, for one. That seems to be unusually generous lodging for servants. Then there’s the man barely dressed out in the freezing cold; the woman and cat having a staring contest, and of course, the gigantic fire, where people are happily toasting their genitals. I’ve been cold. Very, very cold, and it’s never once occurred to me to toast the bits.
You can see much more here.