Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

The Mass of Saint Michael

Folio 195r

The cult of Saint Michael is an extremely ancient one; already in existence among the Hebrews, it grew among Christians due to the influence of the idea of apocalypse.
In the twelfth chapter of The Apocalypse, it is Michael who appears to defend the woman and child against the "great red dragon." "And there was a great battle in heaven, Michael and his angels fought with the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels: And they prevailed not, neither was their place found any more in heaven." (Apocalypse XII: 7-8)
In this miniature, belonging to the cycle of Offices of the Saints, the Limbourgs represented the war in heaven as a war between only Saint Michael and the beast. The bodies of the large reddish dragon and of Michael seem made of fire; the edges of Michael's wings are tipped with flames and he leaves clouds of smoke in the sky. The saint has just wounded the dragon, drawing blood and making the creature turn away its head in anger.
Characteristically, the Limbourgs set the battle in a well-known landscape. It takes place above Mont-Saint-Michel, a famous sanctuary and place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages.
Although the three brothers were among the first of many miniaturists to paint this site, one representation of it did precede theirs, that in the Boucicaut Hours (ms. 2, folio 11v), whose unknown artist, perhaps Jacques Coene, exercised an undeniable influence on the art of the Limbourgs.
However, the latter tried to reproduce more details of the mount than their predecessor: we recognize the large abbey with its choir, transept, and belfries; the abbatial buildings and heavy buttresses supporting the walls; and the houses of the village crowded at its foot, surrounded by ramparts - the same picturesque view that is visible to this day. In the distance, we see the island of Tombelaine, which was fortified at the same time.
A charming initial and medallions of angels, one of whom holds the arms of the Duc de Berry, complete the page. The Duke probably worshiped Saint Michael; his protégé, the Dauphin Charles (the fu- ture Charles VII) adopted this saint as his emblem in 1419, and Charles'son, Louis XI, created an order of knighthood in his honor which existed until the Revolution.

small image (27KB) --- large image (261KB) --- Archangel Michael wounds the dragon (large) (210KB) --- Mont-Saint-Michel (large) (246KB) --- View of the fortress (large) (242KB)

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