The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry is a book of hours. It was commissioned by John Duke of Berry, the third son of King John II of France (the Duke’s brothers were King Charles V, the Duc d’Anjou and the Duc de Bourgogne, and his nephews were King Charles VI and the Duc d’Orleans) in about 1410. It took almost a hundred years for the MS to be completely finished, and was the work of master painters, principally, the Limbourg brothers, Pol and Hermann de Limbourg, with the able assistance of Barthélemy van Eyck (maybe), and Jean Colombe.
The Limbourg brothers were Netherlandish manuscript illuminators. The brothers were born in Nijmegen, nephews of Jean Malouel, and Herman and Jean are first documented in the late 1390s apprenticed to a goldsmith in Paris. In 1402 Jean and Pol were working for Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy; after the Duke of Burgundy’s death, the three brothers were employed by his brother Jean, Duc de Berry. The Limbourgs illuminated two manuscripts for the duke: the Belles Heures (Met. Museum, New York, c. 1408) and the Très Riches Heures (Musée Condé, Chantilly).
The Limbourg brothers, and this manuscript, marked a new era in European landscape painting. The landscapes are particularly fine, and were clearly inspired by actual landscapes and buildings. The level of detail, and the inclusion of realistic features like reflections on water, smoke, breath on a cold morning, and shadows, were new, and harbingers of the landscape style of other early Netherlandish painters.
The Duke died in 1416, as did the three Limbourg brothers, perhaps victims of the plague or a similar epidemic. The MS was unfinished (the paintings for September and November were not complete, for instance). His heirs stopped work, presumably because of the expense. In 1485, the Duc de Savoie, who had acquired the unfinished manuscript, had artist Jean Colombe finish half of September and all of November, the two remaining months (some of the astrological semicircles are still unfinished).
The Duke was a respected and devoted collector of art objects, including books. The most famous of his extant book is the Très Riches Heures. Two other books of hours once owned by Jean de Berry are in the Cloisters collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art: the Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux (54.1.2) and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry (54.1.1).
The Très Riches Heures is now in the Musée de Condé, Chantilly, France, and cataloged as Ms. 65.
The Très Riches Heures contains 416 pages, 131 of which have large miniatures; most of the pages have border decorations or historiated initials. The most famous pages are the “Calendar” pages, one for each month of the year, depicting traditional seasonal agricultural and pastoral labors of the months, or feasts and festivals.
At the top of each calendar page is a rondel with astrological and astronomical data. It shows the current astrological symbol at the top center, and the chariot of the sun below.