Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry  

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The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry or simply the Très Riches Heures (The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry) is a richly decorated Book of Hours (containing prayers to be said by the lay faithful at each of the canonical hours of the day) commissioned by Jean, Duc de Berry around 1410. It is probably the most important illuminated manuscript of the 15th century, "le roi des manuscrits enluminés" ("the king of illuminated manuscripts"). The Très Riches Heures consists of 416 pages, including 131 with large miniatures and many more with border decorations or historiated initials, that are among the high points of International Gothic painting in spite of their small size. There are 300 decorated capital letters. The book was worked on, over a period of nearly a century, in three main campaigns, led by the Limbourg brothers, Barthélemy van Eyck, and Jean Colombe. The book is now Ms. 65 in the Musée Condé, Chantilly, France. The Limbourg brothers used very fine brushes, expensive paints and such to make the paintings.


A generalized calendar (not specific to any year) of church feasts and saints' days, often illuminated, is a usual part of a book of hours, but the illustrations of the months in the Très Riches Heures are exceptional and innovative in their scope, and the best known element of the decoration of the manuscript. Most of them show one of the duke's castles in the background, and are filled with details of the delights and labors of the months, from the Duke's court to his peasants, a counterpart to the prayers of the hours. Each illustration is surmounted with its appropriate hemisphere showing a solar chariot, the signs and degrees of the zodiac, and numbering the days of the month and the martyrological letters for the ecclesiastic lunar calendar.


The main campaign of illumination was sometime between 1412 and 1416 by the Limbourg brothers. The text, border decorations, and gilding were most likely executed by assistants or specialists who remain mostly unknown. The Limbourg brothers left the book unfinished and unbound at their, and the Duke's, death in 1416. The work passed to the Duke's cousin, the royal art lover and amateur painter René d'Anjou, who had an unidentified artist, the so-called Master of the Shadows, who was probably Barthélemy van Eyck, work on the book in the 1440s. Forty years later Charles I, Duc de Savoie commissioned Jean Colombe to finish the paintings between 1485 and 1489.

The paintings of Colombe are easy to distinguish, as are those of the Master of the Shadows (Barthélemy d'Eyck). From the original campaign of illustration various hands have been identified, and Pognon gives the following breakdown of the main miniatures in the Calendar:

  • January: the courtly painter
  • February: the rustic painter
  • March: the courtly painter (landscape) and the Master of the Shadows (figures)
  • April: the courtly painter
  • May: the courtly painter
  • June: the rustic painter
  • July: the rustic painter
  • August: the courtly painter
  • September: the rustic painter (landscape)? and the Master of the Shadows (figures)
  • October: the Master of the Shadows
  • November: Jean Colombe
  • December: the Master of the Shadows

In addition Pognon identifies the "pious painter" who painted many of the religious scenes later in the book during the initial campaign. The "courtly", "rustic" and "pious" painters would probably equate to the three Limbourg brothers, or perhaps other artists in their workshop. There are alternative analyses and divisions proposed by other specialists.

Further reading

  • Michael Camille. “The Très Riches Heures: An Illuminated Manuscript in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Critical Inquiry 17 (Autumn 1990). 72-107.

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