Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

Purgatory

Folio 113v

Jean Colombe has illustrated the Office of the Dead, to which Monday is devoted, with a miniature of purgatory. It is one of the few attempts prior to the sixteenth century at illustrating The Divine Comedy, whose second part was inspired by the medieval belief in a place of temporary expiation for the dead who had not entirely satisfied God's judgment.
Into the flames of purgatory a fiery river sweeps the dead, the repentant sinners not yet damned, who clasp their hands and beg for God's mercy. An occasional angel appears to carry heavenward a soul who has completed his penance and in whose favor the prayers of the living have intervened.
To the left of the fiery flood flows another river, probably icy, which carries more bodies with upturned faces, among them priests and even a bishop.
Other figures try to climb, or simply lie, on a steep mountain beyond. Jean Colombe seems to have been directly or indirectly inspired by Dante who described purgatory as a rocky cliff where the dead could erase their faults through disgust for their sins and a craving for the sovereign good. It is undoubtedly the successful ones being carried to paradise by angels who are shown above the mountain.
Here, as with the month of November (folio 11v), Jean Colombe's miniature suffers from proximity to the work of the Limbourg brothers. His harsh colors, unordered composition, and heavy figures seem clumsy after the extraordinary effects of light and movement in the Limbourgs' Hell (folio 108r), painted seventy years earlier.
However, viewed exclusively on its own merits, Purgatory is admirable for its original conception of the river of fire bearing repentant souls and the flight of the angels carrying them to heaven.

small image (32KB) --- large image (259KB) --- Angels carrying souls who have completed their penance (large) (203KB) --- A fiery river sweeps the dead (large) (251KB)

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