It’s August and summertime sadness is setting in. There’s a mere 4 weeks between back to school and days before the start of my new job. Time to down that moijto stat. And look at medieval French art to avoid thinking about the impending end of shorts and flip-flop season.
In July, we took a gander at les Très Riches Heures for the first time. I tried to give a general overview of book’s significance in art history but today I think we should take a deep dive into the illustrious personage of the Duke de Berry himself.
He was the spare. Spare number two actually. The third son of Jean the II King of France, young Berry had two brother between him and very fancy chair. When his brother King Charles the V died, Berry’s nephew Charles the VI ascended the throne. There were two problems. First, Charles the VI was 11 when he became king. Most kids would this age would be more concerned with Pokemon Go than ruling a kingdom. So the Duke de Berry alongside his other brothers, the young King’s others uncles, helped him rule.
The second problem was less easily solved. Charles the VI was crazy, fou, mad. It’s suggested from several historical accounts that the young king may have suffered from schizophrenia. In the end, his three uncles, including Berry, ended up essentially ruling the kingdom even though Charles had officially come of age. This unstable power dynamic sets up the French civil war between the houses of Berry’s two brothers: Burgundy and the Orleans-Armagnac. Berry has the fun task of playing ref during this tumultuous period in history.
When not busy ruling for his mentally ill nephew, keeping his various family members from killing each other, and attempting to prevent an English invasion, Berry was also a prolific art patron. How he had the time, I don’t know. But, as the son, brother, and uncle to three Kings he definitely had money, and the taste.
The Limbourg brothers were undoubtedly the most famous of the artists he commissioned. But Berry also gathered work from several other major French artists of the time including Jacquemart Hesdin and Andre Beauneveu. Beauneveu sculpted an effigy of Berry, which Hans Holbein later sketched during his travels throughout Europe.