Christmas Countdown: 23 More Sleeps!

The Bedford Hours, c. 1410

This book was famously illuminated by the Bedford Master (we don’t know his name) for the 1st Duke of Bedford, John of Lancaster, to celebrate his wedding day. You may recognize the lapis lazuli blue – this colour was also used by the Limbourg Brothers for the Très Riches Heures.

The image above is quite similar to the images in the Très Riches, actually. See that peasant herding (or chopping?!) sheep in the background? And that castle? I’d be willing to bet that was John of Lancaster’s castle. The Limbourg Brothers incorporated the Duke de Berry’s castle in almost all of Très Riches‘ calendar images, and incorporated peasants doing lowly peasant work as well, to illustrate the Duke’s superiority. The Bedford Master likely incorporated the familiar images of the castle and the peasants in John’s book with the same intention, and also to help him feel more connected to the Nativity scene. I mean, his castle is RIGHT THERE. Looking over the Nativity. That’s pretty darn close.

And, onto something completely different: does anyone else find it a little funny that, while everyone is praying, Baby Jesus is doing the Chicken Dance in his birthday suit?

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.