The Rohan Book of Hours

The Rohan Book of Hours

The Rohan Book of Hours

The Rohan Book of Hours

Excerpt

The art of illumination was the most widely practised of the pictorial arts north of the Alps in the first decades of the XV Century, and Paris was one of its main centres. To Paris artists flocked from every direction, not only men of true French stock, but also Mosans, Rhinelanders, Italians and others. What attracted them thither were the commissions of rich collectors, who vied with one another in the acquisition of their masterpieces, and the most opulent of whom took the finest of the artists into their personal service. About the year 1410, Jean, Duc de Berry, the King's uncle and a splendid patron of the arts, established in his household three young and gifted painters, Paul, John and Hermann called 'de Limbourg'. They had been summoned from Nimeguen by the Duke's brother, Philip of Burgundy, in 1402, and given an important artistic commission which was cut short by his death in 1404, In June, 1416, Jean de Berry himself died. The brothers Limbourg had died just before, and had been able to complete for him only one book, now known as the Belles Heures, which is in the Cloisters Museum in New York. This book, with its brilliant style and its daring innovations, was from the first an admired and coveted masterpiece; and when it came up for sale with the Duc's library, Yolande of Aragon, his niece by marriage, and like him seemingly a collector and lover of fine books, found herself fortunately placed, thanks to her husband's position, to secure it on favourable terms. For her husband was Louis II, King of Sicily and Duc d'Anjou, and was one of the executors of his uncle's will. The Queen borrowed the Belles Heures to examine. The book had been valued by experts at 700 livres, but she paid 300, and kept it.

The Queen of Sicily was not only a woman with some flair for business, as is obvious from the incident just described. She was also discriminating in her tastes, and she too maintained in her service an active atelier of illuminators. She commissioned from them, doubtless for her daughter Yolande (later the wife of Francis I, Duc de Bretagne) an important Book of Hours which subsequently belonged to Isabella Stuart, Francis's second wife, and is now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (MS. 62), and another (now Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Lat. 1156 A) for René, her second son. Yet a third work which she ordered from her court painters was probably intended for her eldest son Louis, heir to the Duchy of Anjou and the Kingdom of Sicily after Louis II's death in 1417. This last Book of Hours, a sumptuous production, fit for a king indeed, drew its inspiration (no doubt by her direction) partly from the book illuminated by the brothers Limbourg which she had recently bought. Also to be found in it are details clearly reminiscent of the so-called Trés Riches Heures, now at Chantilly. That book, the work of those same artists, was never finished, and nothing is known of what became of it between the death of Jean Duc de Berry and the end of the XV Century. But this relationship is a further proof of the interest which the Queen of Sicily took in the art of . . .

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