Aires, Annunciation, April, Books of Hours, Illuminated mansucripts, March, Taurus, the Limbourg Brothers
Tempus fugit! Time flies by and I see I am a bit behind in sharing the wonderful late medieval illuminations from The Très Riches Heures and the Belles Heures of Jean, Duc de Berry. I’ll follow the format of my previous post of Wednesday, 11 February and present the illustrations for both months – March and April – from these marvellous manuscripts, executed for the most part, by the Limbourg Brothers.
This is the representation of the month of March from the Très Riches Heures. It is a time for tilling the soil, pruning the vineyard and the general preparation of the fields as warmth slowly returns to the earth. Serfs and peasants work on the vast estates of the Duke, and the castle featured here is that of Lusignan.
The picture is topped by the depiction of the Sun’s Chariot as it courses through the heavens, moving from the constellation of Pisces into that of Aries.
The other manuscript, that of the Belles Heures, provides a different approach, identifying some of the more important commemorations of the month. (The feast day of the Annunciation occurs on March 25, for instance. See below).
The top quatrefoil contains a charming scene where one man hoes the soil, while another tips a basket of manure onto the still dormant plant.
The Zodiac sign for Aries appears in the bottom quatrefoil as a white long-tailed ram.
The month has long been associated with spring flowers. April is the first full bloom of spring, and the page from the Très Riches Heures alludes to this.
The scene is now in the vicinity of the castle of Dourdan not too distant from Paris. Finely dressed ladies gather flowers, while a couple exchanges rings. The happy couple here is apparently Charles d’Orléans and Jean de Berry’s grand-daughter, Bonne d’Armagnac. It is the age of high chivalry. An enclosed garden to the right shows some trees in blossom.
And the sun now travels from Aries into Taurus.
The Belles Heures, meanwhile, provides additional information.
Beyond the various festivals celebrating the saints, Easter and Holy Week, occurring sometime in late March or April, depending on the moon, so do not appear on the fixed calendar.
The upper quatrefoil shows a well-dressed gentleman carrying a green branch while he smells a blossom from the fruit trees to the right.
The lower quatrefoil shows Taurus, the bull, as the month’s zodiac sign.
There is also a wonderful illumination showing the Annunciation, and I can’t resist showing it here, if only to demonstrate how splendid these illuminated paintings can be. This is the art of Paul de Limbourg, ca. 1409-14. It is from the Belles Heures manuscript in the collection of the Cloisters Museum in New York.
In 1974, the Metropolitan Museum of Art published a magnificent reproduction of this book through George Braziller of New York. I am so glad I purchased this years ago on a whim, and it is a real joy to rediscover it. Thames and Hudson reprinted it in 1975 and it is still available on amazon.com.
© Roger H. Boulet, 2015