Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

April

Folio 4v

Le temps a laisse son manteau
De vent, de froidure et de pluie,
Et s'est vestu de broderie,
De soleil rayant, cler et beau.

"Time has shed its cloak / of wind, rain and cold, / to assume the embroidery / of the sun, shining bright and beautiful."
So sang the prince and poet, Charles d'Orléans, at this time. Nature revives. Fields and woods turn green once more; flowers spring from the fresh grass. One and all celebrate this rejuvenation and become a part of it.
The scene is at Dourdan, the property of the Duc de Berry from 1400, improved and fortified by him. The towers and dungeon of the château, whose ruins are visible to this day, rise at the top of a hill.
Crowded nearby is the village. At its foot flows the Orge upon which two boats are seen. Figures in chatoyant robes are grouped against the green background of fields, meadows, and woods. Two maidens bend to pick violets while a betrothed couple exchange rings before their parents.
The composition is admirable: the figure groups make up a rounded pyramid. Contrast emphasizes the colors of the sumptuous garments: the fiancée's pale blue stands out against the mother's black, the beautiful pink of the maiden kneeling in the foreground opposes the dark blue of the other girl. The fiancé wears princely apparel strewn with golden crowns.
Expressions are rendered with subtlety: the fiancé searches the face of his betrothed while presenting her with the ring toward which she extends her finger and lowers her eyes. The mother is visibly moved; the father turns to look affectionately at his daughter. The Limbourgs have created a harmony of color, composition, and emotion that is perfectly attuned to the scene represented and to the charm of the new season.
The artists seem to have attempted to represent a real event, about which several hypotheses are feasible; we suggest the following one. In April, 1410, at the time the illustrations for the Très Riches Heures were begun, the Duc de Berry's eleven-year-old granddaughter, Bonne, daughter of Bonne de Berry and the Comte Bernard d'Armagnac, became engaged to Charles d'Orléans, who was then sixteen.
An agreement was reached at Gien and the wedding was celebrated four months later at Riom. The couple might have met at Dourdan since the Duke had put the château at the disposal of his future grandson. Thus the miniature could recall the family gathering when Charles was bound to the one of whom he was later to say, "Ah! qu'il fait bon regarder, la gracieuse, bonne et belle!" "Ah! how good it is to watch her, graceful, kind, and beautiful!"
Although this is only a hypothesis, it is a fairly likely one, which would well befit the charm of the painting.

small image (23KB) --- large image (218KB) --- detail (large) (189KB) --- Château de Dourdan (detail) (201KB) --- The Duke de Berry (detail) (201KB)

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