'The Zodiac Man'
Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry,
by the Limbourg Brothers.
Frame: 12 in x 16 in.
An exceptional manuscript (1410-1489)
Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry - Condé Museum, Chantilly*) is one of the great treasures of medieval book tradition and religious culture. The manuscript, referred to as the ‘King of Manuscripts’ by its eminent 19th century owner the Duke of Aumale, is today conserved at the Condé Museum in Chantilly. This liturgical book in Latin was commissioned by John, Duke of Berry (1340-1416). Son of John II (known as John the Good, brother to King Charles V, he was a great patron, bibliophile, and one of the greatest collectors of goldsmithery, precious stones and books of the Middle Ages. On his death in 1416, Jean de Berry owned over three hundred manuscripts and had commissioned over fifteen books of hours. Creation of the manuscript began between 1410 and 1416 by the Limbourg Brothers, until the death of the Duke in 1416 coincided with that of the painters. It was then left unfinished for nearly seventy years until it was brought to its present state in 1485 on behalf of the Duke Charles I of Savoy.
The manuscript is the result of the work of many artists: the copyist Yvonnet Leduc, the Limbourg Brothers (Paul, Herman and John, born around 1380 into a family of herald-painters in the Netherlands, nephews of the major French court painter Jean Malouel and famous miniaturists and illuminators of their age), probably Barthélemy d'Eyck (an artist from Liège and the appointed painter of René of Anjou), and Jean Colombe (an illuminator born in Bourges).
Like many manuscripts of this period, it passed through many owners, travelling between Savoy, Italy and France. In 1855, Henri d'Orléans, Duke of Aumale and son of King Louis-Philippe, was informed by Antonio Panizzi (librarian and curator at the British Museum) that a work of great exception was being housed at the Villa Pallavicini in the suburbs of Genoa. He bought it in 1856 for the sum of 18,000 francs and brought it back to England, where he was living in exile. The Duke returned to France the following year and the manuscript entered the collection of the Château de Chantilly, which was bequeathed in 1886 to the Institut de France.
The Zodiac Man
In keeping with the iconographic tradition of books of hours, Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry boasts an impressive calendar. At the end of the calendaris a miniature entitled ‘The Zodiac Man’ or ‘The Anatomical Man’, attributed to one of the Limbourg brothers and painted before 1416. It depicts the split front and back view of a man standing in a mandorla, encased in a border of the signs of the zodiac and adorned with the coat of arms of Jean de Berry (three fleur-de-lys on a blue background) with the letters VE or UE*. The scene illustrates the correspondence of the constellations, the human body, the humours and the points of the compass. It reflects the idea that the body is a macrocosm, representing man in the image of the universe as a whole.
Inscribed in blue in the top left hand corner, it says: Aries. Leo. Sagittarius. Sunt Calida et Sicca Collerica Masculina. Orientalia.
Written in red in the top right corner, is: Taurus. Virgo. Capricornus. Sunt Frigida et Sicca Melancolica Feminina. Occidentalia.
In the bottom right, in red: Gemini. Aquarius. Libra. Sunt Calida et Humida Masculina Sanguinea. Meridionalia.
In the bottom left, in blue: Scorpius. Pisces. Sunt Frigida et Humida Flemmatica Feminina. Septentrionalia.
The image represents the four temperaments (angry, melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic), the four physiological states (dry and hot, humid and hot, cold and dry, cold and humid), the virtues of feminine and masculine and the four points of the compass. The twelve signs of the zodiac are divided into groups of three starting from the beginning of the year with Aries / Mars. The direction of reading starts in the top left and continues counterclockwise.
The corner inscriptions can be translated as follows:
- Aries, Leo and Sagittarius are (of a constitution) hot and dry, short-tempered, masculine and Oriental.
- Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn are (of a constitution) cold and dry, melancholy, feminine and Western.
- Gémeaux, Verseau et Balance sont de nature chaude et humide, masculine, sanguine et du midi.
- Cancer, Scorpio and Pisces are (of a constitution) cold and wet, phlegmatic, feminine and Northern.
**This has various interpretations. Here, it is probably the motto of the Duke of Berry, ‘En Vous’.
Codices Illustres. Les plus beaux manuscrits enluminés du monde 400 à 1600, de Ingo F. Walther et Norbert Wolf, éditions Taschen (Paris, 2014).
Wood frame, made and assembled in France.
The document is displayed in a 12 in x 16 in frame.
Each frame is hand-assembled in our workshops in Cambremer.
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