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December 7th, 2009 – Day Seven

December 7, 2009

Painted by the Limbourg brothers, Paul, Hermann and Jean, The Tres Riches Heures is a classic example of a medieval book of hours. This was a collection of the text for each liturgical hour of the day, which often included other texts, including calendars, prayers, psalms and masses for certain holy days.  This painting is from the calendar section of the Tres Riches Heures, and was painted some time between 1412 and 1416.  Although this is actually February, it is one of my favorite scenes from the book, and I decided the snow made it appropriate for this advent calendar.

The Limbourgs chose a winter scene to represent this month (February), often the coldest of the year. They have painted it with extraordinary veracity, rendering details with a realism that captures the atmosphere of this harsh season. Pale light from a wan sky falls onto the whitened countryside. The starkness of the snow underlines planes and accentuates details, giving the landscape a particular sharpness. In the distance a village hides its snow-covered roofs between two hills.

A peasant on the road approaches the town, driving his donkey laden with the goods he intends to sell there.  In the foreground a farm is represented, its every element executed with meticulous care: the dovecote, beehives, cart, casks, sheepfold, a hare tree, the house and the wattled enclosure. Near the farm a young man cuts wood; in front of the dovecote a benumbed figure clutching a wool coat over his head and shoulders hurries home.

A large fire shines from the wooden house in which two peasants immodestly warm their legs while the mistress of the house, elegant in a lovely blue dress, warms herself with more decorum. Linen has been hung to dry on rods along the walls, and smoke curls from the chimney.

The birds huddled near the house, are scratching for food which the snow makes impossible to find elsewhere, further emphasizes the severity of winter.

Description from: Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. vineman permalink
    December 8, 2009 3:36 am

    This is also my favorite by the brothers Limbourg. They really do present an accurate picture of what life was like “back in the day.” A pity their careers were cut short by the Black Death; but then, no one really lived long during the Middle Ages. A great choice, Q, for a great series.

    Thanks Mr. V. I didn’t know they died in the Black Death – nasty rats!!
    I love the village tucked between the hills in the distance – church spire reaching up. And the snow…. hopefully by Thursday Milwaukee will look just like this picture.

  2. December 10, 2009 10:24 am

    Years and decades ago, The Metropolitan Museum in New York published a yearly appointment calendar with illustrations from this Book of Hours. I was in high school at the time, and ordered it for myself. I can remember sitting with it – for hours! – entranced by the illustrations. It’s the first time I can remember being so taken with beauty for beauty’s sake.

    What a pleasure to see it here. You’re right – it is perfect for Advent.

    How wonderful it must have been to hire someone to do this for oneself, and then to own it and be able to use it. I love the size of these little books, too.

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