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Jean, Duc de Berry's Book of Hours- January


 January’s theme is Twelfth Night; the Medieval holiday for the giving of gifts, and a holiday in which the good Duke was famous for displaying his largesse.

   In the Limborge’s miniature, the Duke sits at his table, surrounded by friend and courtiers. Although we do not have a recognizable “setting” for the painting, as we have seen in the various outdoor images, the red silk canopy above the fireplace proudly displays golden fluers-de-lys on a cerulean field, surrounded by cygnets: Jean de Berry’s heraldry and one of his badges. Thus, we can read the scene as simply being “the Duke’s court”; whichever of his palaces, lodges or town-houses he might be at that day.  Behind him the blaze of a large fire in the monumental fireplace is guarded by a wickerwork screen. The cygnet badge and the recurring themes of bears and swans found in the various Books of Hours have a secondary meaning as a symbol of Jean de Berry’s love for the Lady Ursine (from: ours – “bear” and cygne – swan).

   At the center of the image is a feast table at which the Duke himself sits, wrapped in a voluminous blue, damascened robe or houppelande. His courtiers wear equally rich, although somewhat shorter, angle-sleeved houppelandes, many worn over what appears to be a high collared, bag-sleeved cotte or doublet, such as those of the two figures at the far left end of the table. Behind the Duke stand two young men whose dress suggest figures from the scenes of spring. One of them, wearing a hat trimmed n rich fur, casually leans on the back of the Duke's chair, suggesting a close member of his retinue, or perhaps one of his sons. Before the table, two richly dressed squires serve as the Duke’s carver and cupbearer, their heads bare, whereas the older, statelier figures of the court wear hats or elaborate chaperones. It is also interesting to contrast that, throughout the Heures, young knights and squires are often shown with broad purses and bullock daggers suspended from thin belts, whereas the greater lords carry none. All the attendees to the feast appear to be wearing hose, some with ankle boots and some with tall boots.

Behind the Duke several figures are seen entering and stretching their hands toward the fire in the central hearth. In the background hang tapestries depicting knights emerging from a fortified castle to confront the enemy, in what is believed by scholars to represent the Trojans sallying out against the Greeks.  Finally, Jean de Berry’s love of hounds is again represented by a faithful white dog in the lower right, successfully begging food from a courtier.

    The Limbourg brothers were regular guests at the Duke’s Twelfth Night court, and some of their gifts to their patron have been recorded. This makes familiarity with the court may be reflected in the careful rendering of the faces of the figures, all of whom likely represent real courtiers. For example, on the Duke’s right sits an aging prelate with sparse white hair and a purple coat. This is likely his close friend, Martin Gouge, Bishop of Chartres, who shared the Duke's love of beautiful books. Over the bishop‘s right shoulder, and somewhat behind is a man with an angular face, wearing a white cap folded over on ear. Scholars now believe this to be a self-portrait of Paul de Limbourg himself, which seems all the more credible since the same coifed head reappears in two other books of hours by the Limbourgs: the Petites heures (Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris) and the Belles heures (The Cloisters, New York). Even the damask tablecloth and gold saltcellar in the shape of a ship are drawn from life, and appear in the surviving household inventories.
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