Manuscript Monday: The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry


The Très Riches Heures is an early fifteenth-century Book of Hours, containing the Hours of the Virgin as well as a custom selection of prayers and devotions intended to be recited throughout the day during the eight canonical hours. In the Middle Ages, Books of Hours were bestsellers, likely for religious reasons. But if you stuck a couple of illuminated miniatures in your Hours you suddenly had yourself a status symbol. Kind of like a Starbucks paper cup is a status symbol today. Yeah, that’s a good analogy. Books of Hours were kind of like the Starbucks cups of the Middle Ages.

This particular Book of Hours was commissioned by Jean, the Duke of Berry, who was an avid collector of expensive things like brooches and castles and hunting dogs. When it came to books (which were also very expensive during his time) the man owned no fewer than 70, in addition to numerous maps and treatises. In short, Jean had stupid amounts of money that he didn’t seem to have any trouble spending.

This is why he blew tons of money on getting the valuable materials that were used to produce his Très Riches Heures. For example, see that blue in the picture above? That colour was made from azur d’outreme, which comes from Middle Eastern semi-precious lapis lazuli. But, of course, Jean didn’t stop there; he also made sure that he hired some of the most famous artists of the age – the Limbourg Brothers (Hermann, Jannequin, and Pol) – to produce his book. It’s too bad that all three Limbourg Brothers  died in 1416 from the Plague. Should they have lived longer, I’m sure they would have graced us with even more works featuring hidden penises. Just look at that peasant in the shed, letting it all hang out. He is lovin’ life.

The Très Riches Heures lives at the Musée Condé in Chantilly, France. However, the Online Library of Liberty is currently working towards making the book digitally accessible.

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