Happy June! A new month brings a new ArtSmart, and this month, the theme is painting. I was torn on this theme because I’m drawn to Abstract Expressionism and the emphasis on the act of painting. However, I also wanted to touch on something that isn’t instantly recognizable. I say Jackson Pollock, and you imagine splatter painting, but if I say Très Riches Heures, you probably say “huh”?
You might think of medieval illuminated manuscripts as drawings, but they are essentially mini paintings. The monks (early on) and artists (later on) used brushes to apply color to vellum and parchment, some brushes containing only one or two hairs to create fine lines in intricate details. The Très Riches Heures miniatures are masterpieces in the International Gothic style, and the 100+ miniatures date from the 15th century.
The Limbourg Brothers illustrated the book of hours (prayers to be said at certain times of the day) in the early part of the 15th century until they and their commissioner died of the plague in 1416. Two other artists completed other scenes during the rest on the 15th century. You can see differences in their styles, and certain figures and fashions help identify post-Limbourg scenes. There are about 12 colors used in total for the entire work which helps tie them all together despite the different artists and times. They think a lens was used to magnify the scene to paint some of the very intricate details.
There are so many miniatures, but I’ll just talk about one coming from the Labors of the Month Cycle, often referred to as the Calendar Cycle, October or Tilling of the Fields. The October miniature is interesting for two reasons. First, that hulking fortress in the background is the Louvre. Yep, THAT Louvre. I always love seeing actual places depicted in art. Second, the reflections in the water of the people walking along the moat are the one of the earliest known in art. That’s such a small detail of the piece, but it shows the shift from symbolic art back to naturalistic art that was occurring in late medieval Europe. If you look at the scene, you can see the emphasis on perspective and more natural depictions with less symbolic rigidity. But you still see some medieval style such as the trees looking more like symbols of trees and the very flat depiction of the chariot and charioteer in the zodiac arch above the scene. This is the precursor to the early Renaissance style.
You can find the Très Riches Heures in the library of the Musée Condé in Chantilly, France. Due to the restrictions in the bequest that founded the museum, the art cannot be loaned to other institutions. Also, the book is incredibly fragile and light-sensitive so it’s not on display. You can see the entire Calendar Cycle online though as well as folios by all of the artists who worked on the book.
Paintings aren’t just on canvases or walls. I find the tiny miniatures in a book can be just as interesting as the halls of paintings in a museum, the frescoes in a church, or the street art along the way.
What is ArtSmart? A couple fellow travel bloggers with an interest in art and I decided to do a roundtable series focused on making our readers “art smart”, e.g. understanding why certain works of art are famous and worth the visit while traveling. At the end of this post are links to the other ArtSmart posts by participating bloggers. Interested in joining the Roundtable? Check out our Facebook page or email me.
This Month’s Fellow ArtSmart Roundtable Articles:
Lesley of CultureTripper: Deciphering Dali’s The Hallucinogenic Toreador
Christina of Daydream Tourist: Millasis’s Pre-Raphaelite Ophelia Up Close
Jeff of EuroTravelogue: Vermeer’s “The Art of Painting”
*UPDATED* Jenna of This Is My Happiness: Tips to Understanding Renaissance Paintings
*UPDATED* Kelly of Travellious: Andrew Wyeth’s Wind from the Sea
Murissa of The Wanderfull Traveler: Leonor Fini: Painting Female Super-Heroines Before Their Time