Monday, June 3, 2013

ArtSmart Roundtable: The Tres Riches Heures Miniatures

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.

I had to include June since it's June.  Plus, that church on the right is Sainte Chapelle: my FAVORITE church.  Source: Wikimedia Commons

I had to include June since it’s June.  This is the Harvest.  Plus, that church on the right is Sainte Chapelle: my FAVORITE church. Source: Wikimedia Commons

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

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13 Responses to “ArtSmart Roundtable: The Tres Riches Heures Miniatures”

  1. 1

    Leonor Fini: Painting Super-Heroines Before Their Time | The Wanderfull Traveler — June 3, 2013 @ 1:02 pm

    […] Erin of A Sense of Place wrote: The Très Riches Heures Miniatures […]

  2. 2

    Lesley Peterson — June 3, 2013 @ 1:43 pm

    Gorgeous post, Erin, and so true that not all paintings are found on canvas and walls. Your point about the artists using a magnifier to complete the Hours proves that more than a mind and imagination are required to produce art. There are physical gifts required to produce work this delicate, namely very fine hands.

    • ehalvey replied: — June 4th, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

      Thanks, Lesley! Painting miniatures definitely would not have been my calling; my hands are too shaky!

  3. 3

    ArtSmart Roundtable – Millasis’s Pre-Raphaelite Ophelia Up Close | Daydream Tourist — June 3, 2013 @ 8:10 pm

    […] Erin of A Sense of Place – The Tres Riches Heures Miniatures […]

  4. 4

    Jeff Titelius — June 3, 2013 @ 8:42 pm

    What a beautiful post about the intricate details in these miniatures! They are quite stunning to look at and instantly remind me of the many illustrated manuscripts of medieval times! Such exquisite detail rendered so beautifully and the vibrant colors certainly capture your attention! I am so happy to see the Louvre and Sainte Chapelle painted in such gorgeous detail!! By the way, Sainte Chapelle is my favorite as well!!

    • ehalvey replied: — June 4th, 2013 @ 12:17 pm

      I’m amazed by the amount of blue in these miniatures; it was such an expensive color that it was used sparingly in early medieval manuscripts. Sainte Chapelle looks amazing in the June cycle since you really get an idea of its original setting before being dwarfed by the current structures around it.

  5. 5

    Christina — June 4, 2013 @ 7:48 pm

    Great choice this month! Manuscripts are really under appreciated paintings. I didn’t realize that was the Louvre and I’d never seen the river reflections in “August”.

    I know these pieces are fragile and rare; is it bad that I’ve always wanted an framed illuminate manuscript page for my wall?

    • ehalvey replied: — June 4th, 2013 @ 11:18 pm

      You know, I kind of want one, too, but then I think about how it’s removed from its original context/would slowly degrade in my non-museum conditions/etc.

      I do have 2 prints of illuminated music scales from the Met. Close enough?

  6. 6

    Mark Crone — June 5, 2013 @ 9:30 pm

    What a great post Erin. I would consider myself an average art admirer and therefore would never really think about manuscripts and the beauty they possess. Thanks for pointing me past the art on the wall!

    • ehalvey replied: — June 6th, 2013 @ 8:14 pm

      Thanks, Mark! Manuscripts seem to get skipped over because they’re in dim rooms or you have to lift a cover to see them, but they’re so worth it.

  7. 7

    Jenna — June 18, 2013 @ 12:31 am

    I thought I had already left a comment on here…well, maybe not. I love your choice this month! These are so delicate and beautiful, and the colors are stunning. Manuscripts are certainly one of art history’s best kept secrets.

    • ehalvey replied: — June 18th, 2013 @ 1:19 pm

      I still cannot get over the amount of bright blue in these!

  8. 8

    A Sense of Place » June’s Awesome Links — June 26, 2013 @ 9:00 am

    […] Me: The Très Riches Heures Miniatures […]

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