The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and Jean de France, Duc de Berry





One of the transcendent masterpieces of the Cloisters collection, the Belles Heures evolved in the course of its production (1406–9) from a relatively unremarkable Book of Hours into a volume of unprecedented sumptuousness. The duke’s love of books and the exceptional talents of the young Limbourg brothers he employed occasioned the in-progress transformation of the manuscript. With the addition of picture-book cycles of favored saints, the manuscript became a laboratory for the artists to experiment with visual narratives. Abandoning the customary static images that were isolated within text, the artists created coherent illuminated cycles so expressive that texts were largely obviated. Through compositional invention, the eye is naturally drawn from one image to the next while the monumental and emotive figure style brought, arguably for the first time in northern European manuscript painting, psychological charge to the imagery. In the course of this seminar, the class focuses on the form and purpose of books of hours, the structure of the Belles Heures and the disrupted course of its production, the duke as a patron, manuscript painting in the courts of France about 1400, the immediate sources of the Limbourg brothers, and the brothers’ art-historical context and legacy. The illuminations are studied closely, aided by binocular microscopy, and issues of technique, palette, compositional intelligence, stylistic development, and the artistic personalities involved are discussed. Underlying this monographic study is the intent to enhance visual acuity and develop analytic skills by examining original works of art. 3 credits.