Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

The Horseman of Death

Folio 90v

Placed at the beginning of the second nocturn for the Office of the Dead, Jean Colombe's miniature represents the fourth rider of the apocalypse: "And behold a pale horse, and he that sat upon him, his name was Death, and hell followed him. And power was given to him over the four parts of the earth, to kill with sword, with famine, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth." (Apocalypse VI: 8)
The rider, clad in red and brandishing a sword, rides a light-colored horse with red trappings, which leaps over the tombs in a graveyard. He is accompanied by a procession of corpses, still wearing their shrouds and armed with lances, axes, scythes, and sticks.
The sight of this extraordinary group sends havoc among a passing group of soldiers, who beg for mercy. A striking effect could have been created here if it were not for the monotony of the skulls, assembled along a line which cuts the miniature diagonally, separating the terrified soldiers from the horseman of Death.
In the background a cheerful landscape and a quiet town, in which a few soldiers have taken refuge, contrast with this frightening scene. Jean Colombe seems to have intended here an illustration of Psalm XXII, whose first verse, beginning this second nocturn, is inscribed in the lower part of the miniature's frame: "Dominus regit me ... " "The Lord ruleth me: and I shall want nothing."
The psalm expresses the peace of the soul who believes in God: "For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me."
In this pleasant scene, we see at the extreme left the facade of a church, then a dovecote, several houses, and at the right the entrance towers of a château with a drawbridge and a moat filled with water. Tall trees and bluish mountains rise beyond, evoking the "place of pasture" of which the psalmist sings.

small image (29KB) --- large image (283KB) --- A medieval town (large) (240KB) --- Terrified soldiers (large) (260KB) --- The horseman of death (large) (271KB)

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