Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Two Medieval Exhibitions begin today at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Living in a tumultuous age during the Hundred Years' War between France and England, the two men also played key roles in more local conflicts among the various branches of the noble Valois family. John the Fearless instigated the murder of his cousin Louis d'Orléans, and Jean de Berry figured alternately as a mediator between the warring factions and a leader of one of them.
One of the most beautiful manuscripts in the world is the lavishly illustrated medieval prayer book known as the Belles Heures (Beautiful Hours). It was created by the Limbourg Brothers — three of the greatest illuminators in Europe — for one of the most famous art patrons of all time, Jean de France, duc de Berry (1340–1416). The son, brother, and uncle to three successive kings of France, Jean de France commissioned luxury works in many media—from chalices to castles— without regard for cost, but is best remembered for his patronage of manuscripts. Herman, Paul, and Jean de Limbourg were in their teens when he selected them to create a sumptuous Book of Hours for his private prayers, and he allowed the young artists rare latitude in designing the work.
For the publication of a facsimile edition, the book was temporarily unbound and conserved, allowing its dazzling illustrated pages to go on view March 2 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry. The presentation at the Metropolitan will feature all of the book's 172 stunning illuminations, a never-to-be-repeated opportunity to view the manuscript without turning a single page. To evoke the courtly milieu in which the duke lived and the princely tastes of the Valois princes, a selection of related objects from public and private American collections will also be shown.
"Although powerful representations of sorrow are familiar to us from the funerary art of the late 19th and early 20th century, the expressive power attained by the 15th-century sculptors of these statuettes will be quite a revelation to many of our visitors," Campbell added. "The keen powers of observation and technical mastery of these early sculptors are truly phenomenal. The small statuettes—none of them is taller than 17 inches in height—capture the entire spectrum of emotions connected with human loss. When the sculptures are grouped together, the viewer is transfixed. Carved more than 500 years ago, these eloquent sculptures still speak to us, and they continue to inspire artists today."
The exhibition consists of all 40 extant mourners from the tomb of John the Fearless, and three figures and one fragment of the architectural arcade from the tomb of Philip the Bold. Because the statuettes have been freed from the architectural framework that usually contains them, the figures may now be viewed in the round.
The mourners will be presented as participants in a funeral cortège. A choirboy carries a candle. A deacon holds a cross. A monk reads from a book. And a bishop stands with his crook. One mourner—his face obscured by a hood— wipes away a tear with his cloak. Another brings his hand to his face, holding back his grief. And a third turns to speak to his neighbor. Some mourners carry a prayer book or a rosary, and others can be identified by the brooch or cincture (belt) that holds their garment in place. The procession includes members of the clergy as well as laymen, as can be determined from details of the caps, hoods, and haircuts that are represented.
For more information, please go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art website.