A Nostalgic Filter: A University of Pittsburgh Exhibition

Très Riches Heures of Jean, Duke of Berry

Chantilly, Musée Condé, MS 65

One of the most famous illuminated manuscripts since the time of its making, the Très Riches Heures stands out even among the extraordinary collection of books commissioned by its first owner, Jean, Duke of Berry. The Duke was the son, brother, and uncle of three consecutive Valois kings of France, and a noted patron of castles, tapestries, sculptural medals, and even musical instruments, but it is his manuscripts that are most widely known today.

The calendar pages from the Très Riches Heures feature arched star charts above full-page illuminations, and many show the Duke’s own castles in the background, but the foregrounds are occupied by vivid portrayals of Labors of the Months. These ‘Labors’ include both aristocratic pleasures like hunting and feasting as well as the agricultural work of laborers in the fields; they reflect the rhythm of the annual cycle through harmonious, idealized scenes. Life is linked to time in another sense in the image of the Anatomical Zodiac Man, which visualizes connections between the body and astrological signs that were a guiding principle for medieval medicine, philosophy, and mathematics.

In 1990 Michael Camille published a pathbreaking essay on the Très Riches Heures that focused on the history of its modern copies. Camille identified this 1904 edition by Paul Durrieu as the pivotal publication that catapulted the Très Riches Heures, and with it an interest in medieval books, into the public eye. Though lacking the bright colors of the original, the facsimile's sepia-toned plates replicate the graceful figures and captivating details of the Très Riches Heures with remarkable clarity. In many ways, this book is the point of departure for the modern manuscript facsimile. Pitt’s copy is #146 of only 320 that were printed.

To the best of our knowledge, this manuscript has yet to be fully digitized and made available online.  The 1904 Durrieu facsimile, however, can be viewed at the website of the Hathitrust Internet Archive.

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