Consonant with its grandiose sobriquet, the Très Riches Heures ("Very Rich Hours") is one of the most famous and familiar illuminated manuscripts in the world. The tome acquired its name from its description in the inventory compiled following the death of its patron, Jean of France (1340-1416), Duke of Berry.
Written and illustrated on the finest vellum and using the richest materials, the Très Riches Heures contains the customary textual elements of a book of hours. The manuscript is renowned for its exquisite illuminations, 131 in all, many of which are highly personalized and remain unparalleled in their richness and virtuosity.
Illustrating the Splendor of the Ducal Court
The manuscript's imposing miniatures are the foundation of its worldwide fame. The calendar is extraordinary in both format and scale, and, occupying an entire folio, each image of the month offers a view of medieval life in France from the point of view of the book's aristocratic patron. More than sixty of the manuscript's miniatures were completed by the renowned Limbourg brothers—Pol, Herman, and Jean—who had been in the service of the Duke of Berry since 1404. Complementing the images is a text penned in a book hand of extreme elegance, which is richly adorned with first-rate initials.
Made for the Duke of Berry, an Insatiable Bibliomaniac
Commissioned in 1410 by the greatest bibliophile of his time, the book was completed incrementally. Upon the sudden deaths of the Limbourg brothers—probably due to the plague—and the death of the duke shortly thereafter, the gatherings—some completed, others unfinished—were collected and safeguarded. The manuscript is the only book of hours listed in the duke's inventory as unfinished. It was nonetheless sold for 500 livres, an exorbitant sum for an unbound, unfinished work.
The book remained unfinished for seventy years until it came into the possession of Charles I (1468-1490), Duke of Savoy, who hired Jean Colombe to provide its missing illustrations around 1485. There appears to be one further intervention between the death of Duke John of Berry and the completion of the manuscript: five of the calendar miniatures remain unattributed, and some scholars believe these may have been executed around 1440 and could hold clues regarding the owner of the book before its possession by Charles.
The manuscript's historical trail goes cold following Jean Colombe's completion of the illumination, only to emerge again in 1856 when Henri d'Orléans (1822-1897), Duke of Aumale, saw the manuscript at a girls' boarding school in Genoa, purchased it, and was responsible for ushering it into its final home, the Musée Condé in Chantilly. The codex's current red leather binding, which bears the arms of the Spinola and Serra families, elucidates the book's history.
We have 4 facsimiles of the manuscript "Très Riches Heures of the Duke of Berry":
- Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry facsimile edition published by Faksimile Verlag, 1984
- Las Muy Ricas Horas del duque de Berry facsimile edition published by Patrimonio Ediciones, 2011
- Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry facsimile edition published by Franco Cosimo Panini Editore, 2011
- Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry - Die Monatsblätter des Kalenders facsimile edition published by Faksimile Verlag, 1994