The devotional book known as Les Grandes Heures de Jean de Berry is a Book of Hours commissioned by Jean, Duke of Berry. The manuscript is kept at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France with the shelfmark ms. Lat. 919. Only one illumination, painted by Jacquemart de Hesdin with the scene of Christ Carrying the Cross, is preserved in the Musée du Louvre.
In 1407, the Duke of Berry ordered this manuscript to be painted by famous artists. The orginal book has to be imagined covered with rubins, saphirs and pearls, and beacuse of this precious cover it was estimated to cost no less than 4000 livres.
The codex belonged to Chalotte de Savoie, wife of Louis XI, as evidenced by an inventary dated 1484. The manuscript passed on to Charles VIII, who rebound the book with another treasure binding. It is not clear when the book was detached from the precious binding.
However, in the twentieth century, one of its rich miniatures was separated from the codex and found in the hand of the English gallerist Percy Moore Turner, who sold it to the Musée du Louvre in 1930.
Les Grandes Heures de Jean de Berry: The Precious Miniatures
Jacquemart de Hesdin was the principal master working on this Book of Hours. He was the author of of the representation of David (fol. 45) and the miniature of Christ carrying the cross. Scholars have also identified the style of other artists: one of these illuminators is known as Pseudo-Jaquemart.
He painted great part of the smaller miniatures, the decorated initials, and probably the drolleries. The interesting artistic work of Pseudo-Jaquemart can be considered as an eclectic collection of French miniature, an anthology of French styles.
The scenes depicted in the manuscript present original themes, usually not found in the decoration of devotional books. The representation of the Wedding at Cana, for example, rarely appears in Book of Hours, while the principal scenes of the Hours of the Virgin are missing.
It is remarkable that the calendar features the images of prophets and apostles along with the text of the Creed. The opposition of apostles and prophets points to the unity of the Old and the New Testaments and constitutes an important theme in the art of the fifteenth century.
The margins are lavishly decorated and contain the emblems and the initials of the owner. Also abundant in grotesque ornament, the decorative patterns recall similar decorations in the Book of Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux and the Breviary of Bellville painted by Jean Puchelle.
The Miniature of Christ Carrying the Cross Painted by Jacquemart de Hesdin
With a strong dramatic composition, the miniature depicting the way to the Calvary organizes the scene with a crowd of figures, including the Virgin, St. John, Veronica holding the cloth with the face of Christ, Simon of Cyrene, the soldiers.
The color palette is typical of the painting of Jacquemart, with a dominance of brown, blue and red. The same scene painted by Pietro Lorenzetti between 1310 and 120 and Simone Martini’s works inspired the complex composition.
We have 3 facsimiles of the manuscript "Grandes Heures du duc de Berry":
- Grandes Horas del duque de Berry (Pergamenata Edition) facsimile edition published by Patrimonio Ediciones, 2013
- Grandes Horas del duque de Berry (Gold Edition) facsimile edition published by Patrimonio Ediciones, 2013
- Les Grandes Heures de Jean Duc de Berry facsimile edition published by Thames & Hudson, 1971