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The Beautiful Hours: an exquisite 600-year old prayer book

The Cloisters Museum, New York

Completed by 1408 or 1409, probably in Paris, The Belles Heures,, a private devotional book, was the first of several sumptuous manuscripts commissioned by the duke of Berry from the Limbourg brothers, Pol, Jean, and Herman. It is perhaps the only virtually complete and stylistically consistent prayer book to survive from the duke's extraordinary library.

THE BELLES HEURES OFJEAN DE FRANCE, DUC DE BERRY [The Beautiful Hours of John, Duke of Berry], French, early 15th-century illuminated manuscript book of hours, 1405 - completed 1408/1409, by Paul Herman and Jean de Limbourg, (collection: The Cloisters Museum and Garden)

The richly illustrated texts, prayers and psalms (to be read on the hour throughout the day) are amplified by unusual cycles reflecting the duke's personal interests. Using a luminous palette, the artists blended an intimate Northern vision of nature with Italianate modes of figural articulation. The keen interest in the natural world and the naturalistic means of representing it, so striking in ninety-four full-page and fifty-four column illuminations, foreshadow the work of Jan van Eyck and the ensuing generations of outstanding fifteenth-century painters in the South Netherlands.

Detail of illuminated manuscript page from Belles Heures Duc de Berry,1408-1409 (collection: The Cloisters Museum and Garden)
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