Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

The Visitation

Folio 38v

Placed before the lauds in the Hours of the Virgin, this miniature represents Mary's traditional visit to her cousin, Elizabeth, who had heen advised by the archangel Gahriel that she would give birth to John the Baptist (see also folio 59v).
The figures are larger than usual in this manuscript; their attitudes and the harmony of the colors are remarkable. Mary came from Galilee to see Elizabeth who, when her baby leaped in her womb upon hearing Mary's greeting, was moved to exclaim, "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb." (Luke I: 42)
The Limbourgs have represented Elizabeth bowed in respect and gratitude before the Virgin, an attitude that reflects the words attributed to her by Saint Luke: "And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (Luke I: 43) Her robe and cloak are painted in two light, harmonious colors which contrast with the deep blue of the Virgin's cloak.
Mary stands in a noble, contemplative pose, her body swaying slightly in the manner of French fourteenth-century representations of the Virgin. She answers, "My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour." (Luke I: 46-47) Rays of light fall from the sky like gold dust to illuminate her face.
At the left is Elizabeth's house, and in the background rise the strange, deformed, domical hills found so often in works by the Limbourgs that they serve almost as the artists' signature. Farther to the right, we glimpse the buildings of a city, which vaguely recalls Bourges, the capital of Berry.
This page is also remarkable for the light-hearted drolleries surrounding the serious scene. A woman defends herself with a sword against butterflies; a warrior in a tower repulses the attack of a snail; an old man pushes a bear playing bagpipes in a wheelbarrow; a cleric chases birds with a ladder.
With these small motifs, painted with imagination, a light touch, and subtle coloration, the Limbourgs renewed the tradition of using grotesques for miniature borderwork by liberating them from the conventional matrix of marginal decoration.
In the initial, the whiteness of the Duc de Berry's symbolic wounded swan stands out against the fleurs-de-lys of France.

small image (28KB) --- large image (249KB) --- The Virgin and Elizabeth (large) (241KB)

Next folio --- Previous folio --- Return to index