We return to the Limbourg brothers with this extraordinary miniature, an inset page added to the Office of the Dead, for which it was not originally
planned. This extremely personal work, in which the
chief artist gave free rein to his inspiration and
creative imagination, appears to reverse the composition and coloring of the Fall of the Rebel Angels (folio 64v).
In the latter we see heaven, the kingdom of the Lord, here we see hell, the realm of Satan; there blue and glittering gold predominate, here graying black and flaming red stand out; there the rebel angels are hurled by God from the heights of heaven, here the damned are spewed up from the bowels of the earth by Leviathan's burning breath.
One major distinction differentiates the two subjects: the fall of the angels was rarely depicted by medieval artists, while hell was commonly represented throughout France on church portals in scenes of the Last Judgment.
The devil in the center of the miniature belongs to the tradition based on the Old Testament description of the Leviathan: "Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, like that of a pot heated and boiling. His breath kindleth coals, and a flame cometh forth out of his mouth. " (Job XLI: 12-13 ) He is shown lying on a grill, squeezing a tangled couple in each fist and trampling on other human beings tormented by snakes. On either side demons work enormous bellows which fan the flames that consume the damned beneath him.
In the foreground, other demons torture more condemned souls, among which are several clerics as usual, but exceptionally few women.
In the background, conical mountains serve as boilers "où damnés sont boullus" ("where the damned are boiled"), as the poet Villon was to write fifty years later. Between these mountains a pallid sky is darkened by the pillar of smoke and fire coming from Leviathan's nostrils, in the midst of which jumbled bodies are vomited by the monster.
Thirteenth-century painters and sculptors had interpreted this theme to the point of exhaustion, so it is not surprising that the rest of the scene contains nothing new.
The miniature's originality and ominous beauty lie in the spurt of fire bearing bodies in so many unexpected positions, within the red and black atmosphere of an infernal forge.
small image (24KB) --- large image (249KB) --- The damned are spewed up from the bowels of the earth (large) (231KB) --- The Leviathan and the infernal bellows (large) (248KB) --- The damned are tortured in hell (large) (253KB)