A long winter, or February, from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

Here in Paris, the weather forecast for the week is snow, sleet, and some more snow. This feels like a long, long winter. So it is only natural that one of my favorite snow scenes, the representation of February in the Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, came to mind.

First, a word about Jean de France, Duc de Berry. Son, brother and uncle of Kings, he was one of the richest men in his 15th century. Greedy, harsh, ruthless, and also a bon vivant, fond of food and the pleasures of the flesh. But it is as a passionate art collector, and a patron of artists, that the Duc de Berry achieved fame.
Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry February
He commissioned the most gifted miniature painters of the time – Jean Colombe and the three Limbourg brothers: Pol, Jean and Herman – to illustrate his Livre d’Heures (literally Book of Hours, meaning prayer book.) The paintings represent the twelve months and many religious scenes, the two being closely linked since prayers follow, and vary with the times of the religious year.

This February is presumed to be the work of one of the Limbourg brothers, the one called the Rustic, because of his affection for scenes of peasant life.

Here the artist shows us the outdoors, the beehives covered with snow, the little character shivering to the right of the picture, the birds picking at seeds in the foreground, the village in the distance, the heavy skies.

But the painter also wants to remember the blessing of a good fire on a chilly day. He simply removes one of the walls of the cottage to give us a peek indoors. See how the fine lady in the blue dress barely lifts her skirts to warm herself, while the couple of peasants seated behind her show no such modesty. She is content to turn away from that candid display. The Très Riches Heures provide an invaluable look at 15th century mores and customs.

The constellations that mark the passage of February, Aquarius and Pisces, in vibrant blues and gold, preside over the scene. This extraordinary book was also a calendar.

For another illustration from the Très Riches Heures, see my Candlemas post, with its representation of the Purification of the Virgin. Different style, different Limbourg brother.

And please let me know if you enjoy these months from the Très Riches Heures. I certainly do, and will be happy to post March, by the third Limbourg brother, to celebrate the advent of spring at long last…

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