Above: Details of illuminations from Folio 96r, Folio 186v, and Folio 212v from the Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry, 1405–1408/9. Herman, Paul, and Jean de Limbourg (Franco-Netherlandish, active in France by 1399–1416). French; Made in Paris. Ink, tempera, and gold leaf on vellum; 9 3/8 x 6 5/8 in. (23.8 x 16.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1)
«We are just a little over a month into the run of The Art of Illumination—the exhibition with the impossibly long subtitle: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry. Come see it if you haven't already—or if you have, but couldn't get a turn with one of the magnifying glasses we have provided, come back to see the astounding detail in these magical little pictures.» And if you are too far away to see the exhibition in person, visit the blog, where I am posting additional information about this beautiful manuscript week by week.
The exhibition's subtitle is not capricious: the Limbourg brothers are the supremely talented teenagers who painted the 172 illuminations on view. The Belles Heures is the name of the unique manuscript on display, an incredibly richly decorated book of hours (the best seller of the late Middle Ages). Jean de France—son, brother, and uncle of three successive kings of France, also known as Jean de Berry—is the patron of this manuscript, which has been temporarily disbound, permitting us to show all of its illuminations at once, a never-to-be-repeated opportunity.
When the the Met's website team invited me to blog about the book, I hesitated: in such a modern mode of communication, was there an audience for information about medieval manuscripts? They assured me there was, and pointed to the evidence of two successful medieval blogs: The Medieval Garden Enclosed and Pen and Parchment. After only six posts, I can already say that it is a fascinating experience to write and respond to comments and questions from near and far. It is an extraordinary opportunity to have this chance to write for the Web about something that means so much to me, and to have it read by thousands of readers. As of last week, the blog had been visited by readers from 120 different countries. Because the Museum’s website has an established presence, the worldwide audience is already tuned in, so that even as a beginner in this format, my voice is heard. Best of all, the blog allows people to see all the illuminated pages in the manuscript. You can go to them each in turn—or just a few a day—click on the thumbnails, and even zoom in, putting the images in your hands, just as they were in the hands of Jean de Berry six hundred years ago.
So visit the blog, and please feel free to ask questions! It is so fascinating to hear your voice, your response. Your questions make me think further, look again at the pages, research details, and study. They raise issues that have caused other readers to wonder, and they expand the utility of the conversation.
If you do live nearby, please also join us in person for an intelligent program planned for Sunday, April 11. This Sunday at the Met will further illuminate the exhibition and also relate it to another medieval exhibition currently on view: The Mourners: Medieval Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy. A three-part presentation, entitled "Splendor of the Medieval Courts of Berry and Burgundy," will be held in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, starting at 2:00 p.m. It will begin with a lecture by a great speaker, Christopher de Hamel, discussing "The Belles Heures since the Duc de Berry." Then Sherry Lindquist will present "Innovations in Sculpture and the Status of Artists at the Court of Burgundy." Finally, providing the sound of the hours, there will be a performance by Richard Porterfield and the Mannes Scuola, "Music and Ritual for the Dead Imagined in the Belles Heures and the Mourners." The program is free with Museum admission, and I promise it will give us all a new sense of the context of these two wonderful medieval exhibitions.
Wendy A. Stein is research associate in the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters.
The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry
Through June 13, 2010
The Robert Lehman Wing
The Mourners: Medieval Tomb Sculptures from the Court of Burgundy
Through May 23, 2010
Medieval Sculpture Hall
Splendor of the Medieval Courts of Berry and Burgundy
Sunday, April 11, 2:00 p.m.
The Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium
Free with Museum admission
See a list of upcoming Sunday at the Met programs.
Related Essays on the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History
Jean de Berry (1340–1416), Patron of Art
Manuscript Illumination in Northern Europe