|Les Belles Heures du Duc de Berry, The temptation of the Christian, circa 1406-1408/9, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cloisters Collection||Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, The month April, circa 1411/12-1416, Chantilly, Musée Condé|
Museum press release, 29 March 2005
‘The absolute highlight of medieval painting’, this is how art historians and art lovers refer to miniatures of the Limbourg brothers. Even today their paintings determine our image of religious, noble and ordinary life in the Middle Ages. For the first time a retrospective will be dedicated to the creators of Les Très Riches Heures and Les Belles Heures, world famous books of hours, made on commission for the mighty French duke Jean de Berry. The honor belongs to Museum Het Valkhof in Nijmegen, the town where the three brothers were born and received their education shortly before 1400. The ambitious exhibition The Limbourg Brothers: Nijmegen masters at the French court (1400-1416) will take place from 30 August to 20 November 2005.
The initiative has created a lot of excitement, because this is the first and only time so many original manuscripts illustrated by Paul, Herman and Johan Limbourg will be exhibited together. Four of the six works (that are known to us) will be included in the exhibition. So whoever wants to enjoy this treasure of originals: it’s now or never.
The heart of the exhibition consists of 17 original pages from Les Belles Heures, which come from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Also on show will be La Bible Moralisée and Les Petites Heures from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris and the Valerius Maximus manuscript from the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana in Rome.
After their presentation in Nijmegen the fragile originals from Les Belles Heures will go back to New York and will not be loaned out again. For the European public they will disappear from view for good. The exhibition forms the highlight of the festivities surrounding the 2000 year existence of the town of Nijmegen.
Never seen before, never to be seen again
Les Belles Heures belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This early 15th century book of hours is rarely seen by the public. Because the book is presently in the process of restoration, it has been taken apart. Quite exceptionally, Museum Het Valkhof managed to obtain permission to borrow as many as ten double pages, including a total of 17 miniatures. The restoration has made it temporarily possible to display the miniatures to the public side by side (when bound only two pages can be presented at any one time).
The Limbourg brothers and the town of Nijmegen: world famous and unknown. The depictions from the calendar became world famous while their creators remained in the background. Until now few people realized that the brothers Paul, Herman and John Limbourg were from the Netherlands. And for many it is new that they were born in Nijmegen, in the Burchtstraat next to the town hall.
Around 1400 they made their ‘transfer’ from Nijmegen to France where they entered the service of the Burgundian duke Philip the Bold. A key figure in this agreement was their uncle Jan Maelwael (‘Jean Maelouel’), who had already worked for the powerful French court before this time. The two calendars Les Belles Heures and subsequently Les Très Riches Heures, which were illustrated for the duke Jean de Berry, a brother of Philip the Bold, achieved world fame. The duke of Berry, known in France as the pope of art, was a passionate art collector and a powerful Maecenas, who recognized the talent of the Limbourg brothers.
Until shortly before their early deaths in 1416 the brothers kept up close ties with their town of birth. Exactly 600 years after they entered the service of Jean de Berry, the Limbourg brothers return to Nijmegen. This exhibition gives them the recognition they deserve: these three Dutchmen are at the roots of Northern European painting. Their names are synonymous with Nijmegen, just as Frans Hals is with Haarlem and Johannes Vermeer with Delft.
Books of hours: once for the elite, now for everyone
The miniatures of the Limbourg brothers form part of books of hours. These books contained a calendar and sheets with prayers and illustrations that accompanied the religious feasts and holy days of the year. Prayers were recited daily at a set time. Access to the books was restricted to a small circle of the privileged. Today everyone has the ultimate opportunity to admire them. The colorful and highly detailed depictions accompanying the texts were intended to heighten religious experience. At the same time they gave the book a certain status that reflected the power and wealth of the owner. In contrast to what has frequently been thought these books were not made by monks in monasteries but by professional artists – such as the Limbourg brothers – in art studios.
On loan from top museums, churches and monasteries
For this exhibition Museum Het Valkhof has managed to acquire about 100 loans from collections of top museums, but also from private owners, churches and monasteries across the whole world. The real treasures are the 17 original miniatures from Les Belles Heures, in addition to La Bible Moralisée de Philippe le Hardi, Les Petites Heures du Duc de Berry and the Valerius Maximus manuscript. Apart from these original book illuminations by the Limbourg brothers, one can also see manuscripts, panel paintings, sculptures and metalwork by their contemporaries and followers. These works originate from such collections as the Royal Collection of Her Majesty the Queen of England in Windsor Castle and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Art tradition in the Duchy of Gelre
The exhibition sheds light on the rich art tradition in the Duchy of Gelre, which shaped the art of the Limbourg brothers. The town of Nijmegen was the most important cultural centre in this region, which stretched from Roermond in the south to Hattem in the north and Geldern (D) in the east. The inhabitants of Nijmegen prospered around 1400 thanks to international trade with the Baltic Sea and England. The town joined the Hanseatic League. Art and culture profited from this. Due to the ongoing church and monastery building and the presence of the Gelre dukes, metal workers, wood engravers, sculptors and painters were active in the town. The Van Maelwael family, to which the Limbourg brothers also belonged, made a name for themselves painting shields, harnesses and banners.
In the 18th and 19th century collectors tore many miniatures out of manuscripts in order to sell them. Miniatures that originally belonged to one book, but have been separated for many centuries, will be reunited in Museum Het Valkhof. For this unique occasion two important miniatures from The Royal Collection in Windsor will be brought together with the Casanatense missal, to which they originally belonged. This manuscript forms part of the collection of the Biblioteca Casanatense in Rome and was illustrated around 1400 by a Gelre miniaturist.
Les Très Riches Heures: to be seen digitally, in facsimile edition and as a modern interpretation
Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, perhaps the most famous book of hours by the hand of the Limbourg brothers is bound by contract to remain in Musée Condé in Chantilly in France. Only very occasionally can it actually be seen. A high-quality facsimile edition (copy in print) offers visitors to the exhibition in Nijmegen the chance to leaf through this book of hours, which in the Middle Ages was a privilege reserved only for the duke and his family. In association with the literature organization de Wintertuin (the Winter Garden), 12 sculptors who were either born or live in Nijmegen, together with 12 poets have allowed themselves to be inspired by the manuscript sheets of Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. This presentation will take place in the Project area for modern art in the museum.
Alongside the museum’s own website www.museumhetvalkhof.nl the Limbourg brothers Foundation offers, in cooperation with Museum Het Valkhof and the Radboud University of Nijmegen, a broad range of information about the Limbourg brothers and the program surrounding the exhibition, see www.gebroedersvanlimburg.nl
De gebroeders van Limburg: Nijmeegse meesters aan het Franse hof, 1400-1416
Pieter Roelofs and Rob Dückers, editors, with essays by various contributors
Catalogue of exhibition held in Nijmegen (Museum Het Valkhof) 2005
30.5 cm x 24 cm., 368 pp.,432 ill.
Hardcover, Dutch edition, Amsterdam (Ludion) 2006
The exhibition in Museum Het Valkhof has come about in association with the Nijmegen Limbourg Brothers Foundation. It has been made possible through the financial support of the Province of Gelderland, Nijmegen 2000 years Foundation, VSB Fonds, Dirkzwager Advocaten & notarissen, Holland Casino, Dela, Hotel Belvoir and numerous other subsidy providers and sponsors.
Manuscripts for every day use from the period of Les Belles Heures and the century following will be on display at Museum De Stratemakerstoren on the Waalkade in Nijmegen. These manuscripts originate and were used in convents and monasteries. In cooperation with Museum Het Valkhof and the Radboud University of Nijmegen, prayer books, manuscripts and text fragments from the convent Soeterbeeck (in Deursen-Ravenstein close to Nijmegen) will be shown. The nuns from this convent used these prayer books for a long time (and their appearance confirms this!). The exposition gives an insight into the functions of the manuscripts, from the inauguration of the convent dweller to her death and funeral.
An international congress that ties in with the theme of the exhibition will take place on Thursday 17 and Friday 18 November 2005 in cooperation with the Radboud University of Nijmegen. Specialists from Europe and the United States will give presentations.
To sign up or obtain information please contact Museum Het Valkhof, Ms van Schie-Faber, by phone +31 24 360 8805 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.