The pictures in this directory are from the calendar section of the Tres Riches Heures. This was painted some time between 1412 and 1416 and is arguably the most beautiful part of the manuscript; it is certainly the best known, being one of the great art treasures of France. In terms of historical and cultural importance, it is certainly equal to more famous works such as the Mona Lisa, marking the pinnacle of the art of manuscript illumination.
They seem to have followed in their uncle's footsteps and by 1402 had entered into the service of the Duc de Bourgogne as artists. By 1408 they had entered the service of Jean, Duc de Berry, one of the most notable (and richest!) art lovers in France. They are known to have executed several other pieces of work apart from the Tres Riches Heures but most of these, with the major exception of the Tres Belles Heures, seem to have been lost. In around February 1416 all three Limbourg brothers died before the age of thirty, apparently killed by an epidemic.
He was the medieval world's greatest connoisseur of the visual arts, with a particular fondness for jewels, castles, works of art and exotic animals. Among his extraordinarily varied collection were chateaux such as Saumur and Bicetre, rubies weighing up to 240 carats, a collection of ostriches and camels and - most importantly from our point of view - a magnificent collection of books. He owned astronomical treatises, mappa mondes, and a large number of religious books: 14 Bibles, 16 psalters, 18 breviaries, 6 missals and no less than 15 Books of Hours, including of course the Tres Riches Heures.
The extremely fine detail which was the characteristic feature of the Limbourgs needed extremely fine brushes and, almost certainly, lenses. Later additions to the Tres Riches Heures carried out by the late 14th- century artist Jean Colombe were carried out in a rather less delicate way. The calendars, however, were mostly painted by the Limbourgs; only November includes a substantial amount of Colombe's work.
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JANUARY The month of giving New Years' gifts (a custom which seems to have died out now). Jean de Berry himself can be seen on the right, wearing the brilliant blue robe. FEBRUARY Winter in a peasant village. The inhabitants of a farm are shown warming themselves by the fire, while in the background daily life - cutting wood, taking cattle to the market - goes on as normal. MARCH The year's first farm work, sowing and ploughing and suchlike. The chateau in the background is that of Lusignan, one of the Duc's favourites. APRIL The arrival of spring, hope and new life - the grass is green and a newly betrothed couple are exchanging rings in the foreground, accompanied by friends and family. The chateau is another one of the Duc's, that of Dourdan. MAY The May jaunt, a pageant celebrating the "joli mois de Mai" in which one had to wear green garments known as livree de mai. The riders are young noblemen and women, with princes and princesses being visible. In the background is a chateau thought to be the Palais de la Cite in Paris. JUNE Harvest time - the peasants are moving the meadow in unison, with the Hotel de Nesle, the Duc's Parisian residence, in the background. JULY More of the harvest; the sheep are being shorn and the hay is being reaped. The chateau behind them is that which formerly stood on the Clain at Poitiers. AUGUST The month of hawking; the nobles, carrying falcons, are going hunting while in the background peasants are harvesting and swimming in the river. Behind them is the Chateau d'Etampes. SEPTEMBER Probably the most famous of the calendar images. The grapes are being harvested by the peasants and carried into the beautifully detailed Chateau de Saumur. OCTOBER Tilling and sowing are being carried out by the peasants, in the shadow of the Louvre - Charles V's royal palace in Paris. NOVEMBER This is the only calendar image executed by Colombe; the Limbourgs painted only the zodiacal tympanum above it. The picture shows the autumn acorn harvest, with a peasant knocking down throwing sticks to knock down the acorns on which his pigs are feeding. DECEMBER In the forest of Vincennes, fabled for its game, a wild-boar hunt has caught a boar which is being torn apart by the boarhounds. In the background is the Chateau de Vincennes, long a residence of French royalty.