Medieval Art: March in Les Tres Riches Heures

Medieval art is my favorite genre in the visual arts, and one of the most interesting forms is the illuminated book of hours. Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (literally: “the very rich hours of the duke of Berry”) is the most renowned book of hours ever produced. It is often referred to as le roi des manuscrits enluminés (”the king of illuminated manuscripts”), and it is one of the most important pieces of artwork in history. 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. Today it is located at the Musee Conde in Chantilly, France.

Like most books of hours, the Très Riches Heures depicts numerous biblical scenes and saints, and the initial capital letters and line endings are lavishly decorated. But unlike most books of hours, this work includes landscapes (most well-known are the twelve miniatures for the months of the year), as well as unusual subject matter like the “anatomical man,” the garden of Eden, the fall of the rebel angels, and even a plan of Rome. To what extent the artists had a say in the subject matter, and how much was determined by the patrons, is unclear.

In medieval Europe, March was the month when peasants returned to working the fields. The Limbourgs depicted this by setting a farm scene below a vista of the Chateau de Lusignan, the favorite residence of their patron. In the country, a shepherd tends his flock, accompanied by his dog. Three workers are pruning vines in a vineyard, and opposite, a peasant delves into an open sack. At the crossroads stands a Montjoie, a sign or guidepost. In the foreground is a detailed plowing scene.

The grand chateau is depicted above, with the fairy Melusine hovering over the Poitevin tower. In the legend of the building of the castle, Mélusine promised to make Raimondin the first nobleman of the realm if he married her, provided that he never see her on Saturday, the one day on which she changed into a dragon. Raimondin’s curiosity got the better of him, and Mélusine flew away from the château in the form of a winged dragon.

(information and photo from:


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