The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean De France, Duc De Berry

Article excerpt

TIMOTHY B. HUSBAND, The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008. Distributed by Yale University Press, New Haven and London. Pp. xii, 376. isbn: 978-1-58839-294-7 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art); 978-0-300-13671-5 (Yale University Press). $65.

Published in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name-recently on display at the J. Paul Getty Museum and opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in September 2009-The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry provides an in-depth look at the manuscript's stunning illuminations. Curator in the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, Timothy B. Husband notes that he has advantages that earlier scholars lacked: unlimited access to the manuscript and the use of binocular microscopy. He is thus uniquely suited to offer insights into the Limbourgs' extraordinary creation.

After establishing the importance of the Belles Heures in the Limbourgs' artistic evolution, Husband introduces the work. He explains the function and the usual contents of a Book of Hours and reveals what sets the Belles Heures apart: its unusually large number of illuminations-172-and seven 'picture book' insertions.

In the next two sections, Husband furnishes biographical information for Jean de France and the Limbourg brothers. Husband discusses in particular Jean as a patron, paying special attention to Jean's collection of manuscripts. While each brother's contributions to their projects remain unidentified, their lives are less mysterious: Husband presents their family history and then their commissions. After the death of Philip the Bold, the brothers found a new patron in Philip's brother, Jean, who charged the siblings with adding some illuminations to the Très Belles Heures de Notre-Dame. Husband surmises that Jean wished to test the brothers' skills and, pleased with the results, commissioned the Belles Heures.

Two charts-one summarizing texts and miniatures by quire and folio and the other showing collation-outline the manuscript's structure, after which Husband considers the organization and decoration of pages, focusing on the contributions skilled workers made to the Belles Heures: the vellum, rulings, script and rubrics, textual decoration, and borders. Husband next analyzes the sequence of production, pointing to signs of the work's structural evolution over its three- to four-year period of completion.

Fittingly, the gorgeous illuminations, reproduced in color and at their actual size, make up the bulk of Husband's book, with nearly 200 pages devoted to the images. Husband adopts the same general format for each component of the manuscript: he provides background information and situates the text in the tradition of Books of Hours. Next, proceeding by quire and folio, he describes each miniature and provides commentary, transcribes the text associated with the image, and gives an English translation. …

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