Très Belles Heures de Notre-Dame

Très Belles Heures de Notre-Dame – Faksimile Verlag – Nouv.acq.lat.3093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)

Paris or Bourges (France) — Around 1380, around 1404–1409, and around 1412

Separated today, once part of a true mammoth work: a magnificent labor by the Limbourg Brothers for Jean Duc de Berry

  1. The Très Belles Heures, Turin-Milan Hours, and now-burned Turin Book of Hours originally comprised a single work

  2. Each of these parts, made inter alia by the famous Limbourg Brothers, is counted among the most magnificent medieval prayer books today

  3. The work was commissioned ca. 1380 by Duke Jean of Berry (1340–1416), one of the greatest art patrons in history

Très Belles Heures de Notre-Dame

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  1. Description
  2. Detail Picture
  3. Single Page
  4. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Très Belles Heures de Notre-Dame

This precious manuscript, aptly described in French as a "very beautiful book of hours," shows numerous influences of Flemish art and was created by various masters in several phases sometime between 1380 and 1412. The main scenes from the New Testament are juxtaposed with elaborate bas-de-page miniatures on the 25 miniature pages. Each page is set in a filigree border of ivy leaf vines interspersed with depictions of angels and small animals such as birds and butterflies. The book was originally commissioned by the famous bibliophile Duke Jean of Berry (1340–1416), who gave it to his treasurer Robinet d'Estampes in 1412. The miniatures resembling panel paintings are small works of art and make the manuscript as a whole a true masterpiece. Therefore, it is not surprising that it has been divided and sold in individual fragments several times during its long history. However, the core of the book of hours has been preserved over the centuries and is presented here.

Les Très Belles Heures de Notre-Dame (Turin-Milan Hours)

The Très Belles Heures de Notre-Dame is a valuable and artfully adorned book of hours that resides in Paris. The book was commissioned by the Duke of Berry in 1380, intended to be part of his well-known collection. It is counted among the most magnificent prayer books of the Middle Ages, along with the lost Turin Prayer Book and Turin-Milan Hours. The artists – great names of their time – created large-format miniatures, composed the matching bas-de-page vignettes underneath, and decorated the pages with golden acanthus leaves. Thanks to their outstanding quality, these miniature pages are among the highlights of medieval illumination.

Constantly Changing Hands

The Très Belles Heures de Notre-Dame is connected with the Duke of Berry, one of the greatest patrons and collectors of art in history. The Duke gave the work, which he had commissioned, to his treasurer Robinet d'Estampes in 1412. It was he who decided to divide the manuscript into three parts, of which he retained the actual book of hours, while the other parts with the special prayers to individual saints and the missal were sold to the House of Bavaria-Holland. The latter part was subsequently divided as well, with the missal sent to Milan, and the prayer section sent to Turin (which was unfortunately heavily damaged in a fire in 1904). Today, this combination is known as the Turin-Milan Hours. In its original form, the unusually monumental work is an outstanding highpoint of medieval book art that continues to amaze in its constituent parts. The Très Belles Heures de Notre-Dame came into the possession of Baron Alphonse de Rothschild, whose family would eventually gifted the work to the French National Library in 1956.

One Manuscript, Many Masters

The book of hours, aptly named “very beautiful Book” in French, shines with 25 miniature pages, which depict a variety of masterful art. This is probably due to the fact that many different participating artists added their own special touch to the panel paintings. The first of which, known as the “Master of the Parament of Narbonne”, was often employed by the French court and today has been identified as Jean d’Orleans. He was also the one who laid down the basic "layout" of the miniature pages, each with a large framed main picture, an intricately embellished initial, and a bas-de-page miniature at the bottom of the page – all well thought out and original in design. Especially fine are the ivy vines, interrupted by depictions of angels and small animals like birds and butterflies, which ornamentally surround each miniature. The miniatures of this book of hours from the hand of the "Parament Master" offer art history a more than convincing substitute for the largely lost French panel painting of this era.

French Art with Flemish Influences

Other participating artists could be identified with the “Master of John the Baptist” and “Holy Ghost Master”, who are connected to the tradition of Flemish artists. For instance, the impressive depiction of Christ’s baptism and resurrecting of the dead are shown. Next to the remarkable main paintings, the bas-de-page-miniatures are certainly worth a thorough look. In general, the wealth of figures in the entire manuscript, with its detailed studies of garments and faces, probably has no equal in contemporary art. There are also many curious discoveries to be made by an interested viewer, e.g. a painter set a bearded head on a female body among a group of worshipers. The last miniature pages, which were finally added in 1412, derive from the famous workshop of the brothers Paul and Jan Limbourg. The possibility that even more masters could have contributed to the Les Très Belles Heures de Notre-Dame is cause for wonderment and surely makes this work a worthy piece of any collection for every enthusiast of medieval book art.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Les Très Belles Heures de Nôtre-Dame
Size / Format
252 pages / 28.0 × 20.0 cm
Origin
France
Date
Around 1380, around 1404–1409, and around 1412
Style
Language
Illustrations
25 miniature pages
Patron
Duke Jean of Berry (1340–1416)
Artist / School
Previous Owners
Robinet D'Estampes
Baron Alphonse de Rothschild

Available facsimile editions:
Très Belles Heures de Notre-Dame – Faksimile Verlag – Nouv.acq.lat.3093 – Bibliothèque nationale de France (Paris, France)
Faksimile Verlag – Lucerne, 1992
Limited Edition: 980 copies
Detail Picture

Très Belles Heures de Notre-Dame

Deposition from the Cross

Covered in wounds from being beaten and crucified, Christ is shown being taken down from the cross, but angels are shown performing the task instead of Apostles, making this an unusual depiction. The three figures are surrounded by the Arma Christi or “Weapons of Christ”. Aside from the True Cross, the Instruments of the Passion include the Crown of Thorns, column and whips used for the Flagellation of Christ (right), as well as the nails, Holy Lance, and Holy Sponge (left).

Les Très Belles Heures de Notre-Dame
Single Page

Très Belles Heures de Notre-Dame

The Crucifixion

This miniature of Christianity’s most iconic image manages to condense the final events of the Passion into a single that is second to none in terms of artistry. In the bas de page miniature, we see the nails being driven into Christ’s feet as the two thieves are being brought up to Golgotha. In the historiated initial, we see the soldiers casting lots for his seamless robe.

The primary miniature is even more dense, e.g. the red background is actually a sea of angels, the sun and moon flank the cross representing the eclipse that occurred. The vinegar-soaked sponge is extended to Christ’s mouth moments before his death. The moment after his death is also depicted and the Virgin Mary collapses as blood and water pour from his pierced side.

Les Très Belles Heures de Notre-Dame
Facsimile Editions

#1 Les Très Belles Heures de Notre-Dame

Faksimile Verlag – Lucerne, 1992

Publisher: Faksimile Verlag – Lucerne, 1992
Limited Edition: 980 copies
Binding: The lavish red kidskin binding is richly tooled in gold and decorated with a coat-of-arms. The volume is gilt-edged on three sides. The leaves were sewn by hand onto six cords.
Commentary: 1 volume (207 pages) by Eberhard König
Languages: French, German
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
Price Category: €€ (1,000€ - 3,000€)
Edition available
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