A Nostalgic Filter: A University of Pittsburgh Exhibition

Petites Heures of Jean, Duke of Berry

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Ms. Lat. 18014

Like most books of hours, this manuscript begins with a calendar that marks each day with the name of a saint to be venerated as well as letters and numbers that allow the user to calculate the days of the week and the phases of the moon across the years. Its unusually rich decorations juxtapose astrological and liturgical time, as for example in the detail of Taurus emerging from a gate as the Virgin Mary waves a banner emblazoned with the Crucifixion, evoking springtime and Easter. A series of debates appear at the bottom register of each calendar page as saints from the New Testament debate with prophets from the Hebrew Bible. From month to month the buildings behind the prophets are shown dismantled brick by brick, visualizing the Christian antagonism towards Judaism in strikingly architectural terms.
The Petites Heures is thought to have been the earliest of the six books of hours commissioned by Jean, Duke of Berry, and he is said to have carried it with him on various journeys. Perhaps his eyes lingered on the depiction of the Three Living and the Three Dead, a macabre encounter that was meant to remind readers of the brevity of earthly life.

This manuscript has been fully digitized and is available at the website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

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