Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

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Page from the calendar of the Très Riches Heures showing the household of John, Duke of Berry exchanging New Year gifts. The Duke is seated at the right, in blue.

The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, or Très Riches Heures, is possibly the best example of French Gothic manuscript illumination surviving to the present day. It is a book of hours: a collection of prayers to be said at canonical hours. It was created between 1412 and 1416 for John, Duke of Berry, by the Limbourg brothers. When the three painters and their sponsor died in 1416, possibly victims of plague, the manuscript was left unfinished. It was further embellished in the 1440s by an anonymous painter, who many art historians believe was Barthélemy d'Eyck. In 1485-1489, it was brought to its present state by the painter Jean Colombe on behalf of the Duke of Savoy. Acquired by the Duc d'Aumale in 1856, the book currently resides in the Musée Condé, Chantilly, France.

Consisting of a total of 206 vellum leaves, 30 cm in height by 21.5 cm in width, the manuscript contains 66 large miniatures and 65 small. The design of the book, which is long and complex, has undergone many changes and reversals. Many artists contributed to its miniatures, calligraphy, initials, and marginal decorations, but determining their precise number and identity remains a matter of debate. Painted largely by artists from the Netherlands, sometimes using rare and costly pigments,1 the paintings are strongly influenced by Italian art and antiquities.

After three centuries in obscurity, the Très Riches Heures gained wide recognition in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, despite having only rare public exposure. Its miniatures helped to shape an ideal image of the Middle Ages in the collective imagination. This is particularly true for the calendric images, which are the most commonly reproduced. They offer vivid representations of peasants performing agricultural work as well as aristocrats in formal attire, against a background of remarkable medieval architecture.

Historical context

The “Golden Age” of the book of hours in Europe took place from 1350–1480; the book of hours became popular in France around 1400 (Longnon, Cazelles and Meiss 1969). At this time many major French artists undertook manuscript illumination.

Duke of Berry

John, Duke of Berry, is the French prince for whom the Très Riches Heures was made. Berry was the third son of the future king of France, John the Good. Little is known of Berry’s education but it is certain that he spent his adolescence among arts and literature (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988). The young prince lived an extravagant life, necessitating frequent loans. He commissioned many works of art, which he amassed in his Saint Chapelle mansion. Upon Berry’s death in 1416, a final inventory was done on his estate that described the incomplete and unbound gatherings of the Très Riches Heures (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988).


The Très Riches Heures has changed ownership many times since its creation:

  • The manuscript was created for the Duke of Berry between 1412 and 1416
  • The gatherings fell into hands of King Charles VII after 1416, where the intermediate painter is expected to have contributed
  • Duke Charles I of Savoy commissioned Jean Colombe to complete the manuscript (1485–1489)
  • Sixteenth-century Flemish artist imitated the figures or entire compositions found in the calendar (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988)
  • The Très Riches Heures disappeared from history for three centuries
  • The manuscript is bound during 18th century by the Spinola of Genoa, Italy (Longnon, Cazelles and Meiss 1969)
  • The founder of the Chantilly museum bought it from the Italian family (1856)


Media related to the complete scanned book at Wikimedia Commons


There has been much debate regarding the identity and number of artists who contributed to the Très Riches Heures.

The Limbourg brothers

The inventory drawn up after Berry’s death indicated that “Pol” and his brothers had created the Très Riches Heures; many historians agree this must refer to Paul de Limbourg and his two brothers, Jean and Herman. The three artists had originally worked under the supervision of Berry’s brother, Philippe de Hardi, on the Bible Moralisée and had came to Berry after Hardi’s death. As of 1411, the Limbourgs were permanent members of Berry’s household (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988). It is also suspected that another book of hours, the Belle Heures, completed between 1408 and 1409, can also be attributed to the brothers. It is suggested that the Limbourg contribution to the Très Riches Heures was completed between 1412 and 1416. Documentation from 1416 was found indicating that Jean, followed by Paul and Herman, had died. Jean de Berry died later that year (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988).

Jean Colombe

Folio 75 of the Très Riches Heures includes Duke Charles I of Savoy and his wife. The two were married in 1485 and the Duke died in 1489, implying that it was not one of the original folios. The second painter is Jean Colombe, who was paid 25 gold pieces by the Duke to complete certain canonical hours. There are other subtle differences between the miniatures created by the Limbourgs and Colombe. Colombe chose to set large miniatures in frames of marble and gold columns. His faces are less delicate, with more pronounced features. He also used a very intense blue paint that is seen in the landscape of some miniatures. Colombe is noted as working in his own unique style without imitating that of the Limbourgs (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988).

The Intermediate Painter

The intermediate painter is assumed to have worked on the manuscript sometime between 1416 and 1485. Evidence in the dress and details of costume suggests that the Limbourgs did not paint some calendar miniatures. Figures in the miniatures for January, April, May, and August are dressed in styles from 1420. The figures strolling in October are dressed in a sober fashion indicative of mid-fifteenth century. It is known that the gatherings fell into hands of King Charles VII after Limbourg’s death, and it is assumed that the intermediate painter is associated with his court (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988).
The artists of the calendar miniatures have been identified as follows (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988):

  • January: Jean
  • February: Paul
  • March: Paul and Colombe
  • April: Jean
  • May: Jean
  • June: Paul, Jean, Herman, and Colombe (?)
  • July: Paul
  • August: Jean
  • September: Paul and Colombe
  • October: Paul and Colombe (?)
  • November: Colombe
  • December: Paul


A Breviary consists of a number of prayers and readings in a short form. The book of hours is a form of breviary where the prayers are intended for recital at the canonical hours of the liturgical day. Canonical hours refer to the division of day and night for the purpose of prayers. The regular rhythm of reading led to the term “book of hours” (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988).

The book of hours consists of prayers and devotional exercises, freely arranged into primary, secondary and supplementary texts. Other than the calendar at the beginning, the order is random and can be customized for the recipient or region. The hours of the virgin are the most important, and therefore subject to the most lavish illustration. The Très Riches Heures is rare in that it includes several miracles performed before the commencement of the passion (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988).

Calendar Gallery

Fuller descriptions at the University of Chicago website2

Technical analysis


The binding is well preserved and dates from the eighteenth century. The edges are green and gilded on three sides. The leather covering is of red Moroccan leather and the end linings are of green silk. The entire binding is lavishly tooled in gold. Originally both the front and back covers displayed the arms of the Spinola family of Genoa (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988).


The vellum used in the 206 folios is fine quality calfskin. All bi-folios are complete rectangles and the edges are unblemished and therefore must have been cut from the center of skins of sufficient size. The folios measure 30 cm in height by 21.5 cm in width, although the original size was larger as evidenced by several cuts into the miniatures. The tears and natural flaws in the vellum are infrequent and almost go unnoticed (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988).


The ground colors moistened with water and thickened with either gum Arabic or tragacanth gum. Approximately ten shades are used besides white and black. The detailed work required extremely small brushes and probably a lens (Longnon, Cazelles and Meiss 1969).

Formal and iconographical analysis

Due to the large number of miniatures appearing in the Très Riches Heures, it is more fruitful to describe the different sections and identify the iconography of specific folios.

  • The Calendar: Folios 1–13
Each month of the calendar is allotted two pages, one for the calendar and another for the miniature and a semicircular arch. The calendar provides the reader with days in the solar and lunar months, as well as great feasts and saints for each day. January is the largest miniature in the calendar and includes the Duke of Berry at a New Year’s Day feast (Longnon, Cazelles and Meiss 1969).
Several of the miniatures depict the Duke, fields or castles he owned, and places he visited. This portrays the personal function of the book of hours, as it is customized to suit the patron (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988).
  • Anatomical Zodiac Man: Folio 14
The Anatomical Zodiac Man concludes the calendar. The twelve signs of the zodiac appear over the corresponding anatomical regions. It was painted for Jean de Berry by the Limbourgs as evidenced by the appearance of his arms, three fleurs-de-lis on a blue background (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988).
Some historianswho? believe that the zodiac man can be reasonably interpreted in terms of late medieval medical doctrineclarification needed. Several tracts on the subject were found in the Duke of Berry’s library (Bober 1948).
  • Readings from the Gospels: Folios 17–19
  • Prayers to the Virgin: Folios 22–25
  • Fall of Man: Folio 25
This part is represented in four stages within the same miniature. The Fall of Man is thought to have been by Jean de Limbourg and was to belong to a series of miniatures not originally intended for the Très Riches Heures.
  • Hours of the Virgin Matins: Folios 26–60
  • Psalms: Folio 61–63
The illustrations for the psalms employ a literal interpretation of the text that is rare for the late medieval period (Manion 1995).
  • The Penitential Psalms: Folio 64–71
This section begins with the “Fall of the Angels”, which bears a lot of similarity to a panel painting by a Sienese painter dating from 1340 to 1348, now at the Louvre (Longnon, Cazelles and Meiss 1969). The Limbourgs may have known this work. This miniature has been identified as not originally intended for the Très Riches Heures.
  • Hours of the Cross: Folios 75–78
In this section Christ is depicted as alone, exhibiting wounds and surrounded by instruments of the passion. This is a common iconographic type in fourteenth-century manuscripts (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988).
  • Hours of the Holy Ghost: Folios 79–81
  • Office of the Dead: Folios 82–107
Colombe painted all the miniatures of this section, other than “Hell”, which was painted by a Limbourg brother. “Hell” is based on a description from a thirteenth-century Irish monk Tundal (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988). This miniature was probably not originally intended for the manuscript.
  • Short Weekday Offices: Folios 109–140
“Presentation of the Virgin” takes place in front of Cathedral of Bourges, which was known to the Duke (Longnon, Cazelles and Meiss 1969).
  • Plan of Rome: Folio 141
  • Hour of the Passion: Folio 142–157
  • Masses for the Liturgical Year: Folios 158–204
Folio 201 depicts the martyrdom of St. Andrew. The Duke of Berry was born on St. Andrew's day, 1340; consequently this miniature was of great importance to him (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988).

Some conventions used by the Limbourgs, such as a diaper background or the portrayal of night, were influenced by artists such as Taddeo Gaddi. These conventions were transformed completely into the artist’s unique interpretation (Longnon, Cazelles and Meiss 1969).

Stylistic analysis

The Très Riches Heures is possibly the best example of French Gothic illumination surviving in present day. The original folios were created during the “Golden Age” of the book of hours in Europe, which took place from 1350–1480.

The Limbourg brothers had artistic freedom but worked within a framework of the religious didactic manuscript. Several artistic innovations by the Limbourg brothers can be noticed in the Très Riches Heures. In the October miniature, the study of light was momentous for Western painting (Cazelles and Rathofer 1988). People were shown reflected in the water, the earliest representation of this type of reflection known thus far. Miniature scenes had new informality, with no strong framing forms at the edges. This allowed for continuity beyond the frame of view to be vividly defined. The Limbourgs developed a more naturalistic mode of representation and developed portraiture of people and surroundings. It is interesting to note that religious figures do not inhabit free open space and courtiers are framed by vegetation. This is reminiscent of a more classical representation (Longnon, Cazelles and Meiss 1969).

Scholarly text exists by Manion that offers a stylistic analysis of the psalters specifically. The psalters offer a systematic program of illuminations corresponding to the individual psalms. These images are linked together, but are not in the numerical order of the psalter. This emphasizes the idea of the abbreviated psalter, where each psalm is illustrated once (Manion 1995). The miniatures are not modeled on any specific visual or literary precedence when compared with other fourteenth century psalters. The manuscript offers a literal interpretation of the words and lacks a selection of more personal prayers. This emphasizes the didactic use of the book of hours (Manion 1995).



  • Bober, Harry. "The Zodiacal Miniature of the Tres Riches Heures of the Duke of Berry: Its Sources and Meaning." Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 11, no. 1948 (1948).
  • Cazelles, Raymond, and Johannes Rathofer. Book Title Illuminations of heaven and earth : the glories of the Très riches heures du duc de Berry. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1988.
  • Christus Rex, Inc. and Michael Olteanu, MS.
  • Longnon, John, Raymond Cazelles, and Millard Meiss. The Tres Riches Heures of Jean, Duke of Berry. New York: G. Braziller, 1969.
  • Manion, Margaret M. "Psalter Illustration in the Très Riches Heures of Jean de Berry." Gesta (International Center of Medieval Art) 34, no. 2 (1995): 147–161.
  • Michael Camille. “The Très Riches Heures: An Illuminated Manuscript in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Critical Inquiry 17 (Autumn 1990). 72–107.

External links

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