The Belles Heures of Jean de France is a prayer book – also called a book of hours, which was made for Jean de France, the Duke of Berry by Herman, Paul and Jean de Limbourg, more commonly known as The Limbourg Brothers. The Limbourg Brothers were actively making artwork in France during the early 1400s. Though they were all still teenagers they were very skilled as artists, and so they were hired to create a personal Bible for Jean de France by his brother Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.
The book was to be used as a private devotional to the Virgin Mary; in fact Belles Heures actually translates to beautiful hours. This title is not only used because the book is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but also because the Belles Heures is decorated so extravagantly as compared to other surviving books of hours from the time. Though all of the books have some common features, for example: it was popular for books of hours from this time to be dedicated to the Virgin Mary, however, there are not many others in existence that can compare to the rich color, narrative and decoration that the Limbourg Brothers applied to their work.
This book of hours is the only complete manuscript to be illuminated by the Limbourg Brothers. The Brothers painted every illustration in the Belles Heures which allows viewers today to see how their art changed and improved over the course of making the entire book of hours. As said best about their work evolving while working on the Belles Heures in an article about the Art of Illumination from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website, “Their art achieved new strength in construction of pictoral space, deeper expression of emotional narration, and increasingly beautiful light and technical finesse (metmuseum.org).” As someone who has personally been observing their work, especially their work in the Belles Heures, I agree completely with this statement because I myself attempted to make a copy of a folio from the Hours of the Passion.
The precise folio I copied from the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duke of Berry comes from the Hours of the Passion. The folio, numbered 142r, is entitled “Christ Offered the Sop”. This folio is one of three folios in total that depict in Crucifixion of Christ in the Belles Heures. The scene portrayed is taken from an account in the Gospels in which Christ on the cross calls out that He is thirsty. The soldiers standing by soak a sponge in vinegar that they stick onto a spear or a reed and offer to Him. Flanking either side of the cross are the Virgin Mary and the young apostle John the Beloved (Saint John) who are weeping as Christ suffers.
As I looked at other illuminations from this book of hours, I noticed that the foreground of each usually appeared to be very small and limited in space while I found that many of the background spaces were filled with some type of pattern. This folio is a perfect representation of this style that the Limbourg Brothers implemented in their manuscript...