Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de BerryJanuaryFolio 2r
We see here the day chosen for exchanging gifts.
Jean de Berry enjoyed giving and receiving; Paul de
Limbourg and his brothers used to participate in the
festivities, presenting the prince with an object worthy of their artistry.
The Duke sits at his table, surrounded by friends. Behind him the blaze of a large fire in the monumental fireplace is guarded by a
wickerwork screen. Above the fireplace rises a red
silk canopy bearing the Duke's heraldic motifs: golden
fleurs-de-lys, strewn on a blue ground. Wounded
swans and bears symbolize the Duke's love for a lady
called Ursine (ours: bear, cygne: swan). Tapestries
hanging behind the canopy depict knights emerging
from a fortified castle to confront the enemy; the few
decipherable words of the poetry inscribed at the top
of the tapestries seem to indicate a representation of
the Trojan War as imagined in medieval France.
The table is covered with a damask cloth and laid
with platters, plates, and a beautiful gold saltcellar in
the shape of a ship, which is referred to in the inventories as the "salière du pavillon. "
The Duke's little dogs wander freely among the dishes. Behind the
Duke stand two young men whose coiffures and
dress suggest figures from the scenes of April, May,
or August. One of them casually leans on the back of
the Duke's chair. They might be close family members or princes of his retinue.
A prelate with sparse white hair and a purple coat
sits on the Duke's right, thanking him for this honor.
He is probably a close friend, Martin Gouge, Bishop
of Chartres, who shared the Duke's love of beautiful
books. Behind him several figures are seen entering
and stretching their hands toward the fire; the chamberlain encourages them, saying "Approche approche!"
"Come in, come in ! "
Other figures follow, including
a man with an angular, willful face, who wears a cap
folded over one ear. Paul Durrieu (Les Très riches
Heures de Jean de France, duc de Berry, p. 131 ) believes
Paul de Limbourg intended this figure to be a self-portrait, a hypothesis which appears all the more
credible since the 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). If the hypothesis were
carried even further, we could identify a hooded
figure greedily drinking from a cup as one of the
brothers, and the woman behind him, whose face is
partially hidden, as Paul de Limbourg's wife, Gillette
le Mercier, the daughter of a Bourges burgher. A
cup-bearer, a pantler, and a carver, busy waiting on
table in front of the officers of the ducal court,
complete this lively tableau which recreates a familiar scene from the life at the court of Jean de Berry.
For a description of the figures in the tympanum
above, see the month of November (folio 11v).
small image (32KB) --- large image (280KB) --- detail (large) (212KB) --- another detail (large) (234KB) --- a table detail (large) (212KB) --- another table detail (large) (217KB)
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