About the Art

Medieval Manuscript Illumination

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A book of hours is a prayer book made for private use. They grew popular toward the end of the Middle Ages, but few are as richly decorated as the Belles Heures of the Duc de Berry. All books of hours include certain elements, such as the Hours of the Virgin, but each one was customized according to local artistic practices and to the personal wishes of its patron.

Jean, Duc de Berry (1340–1416) was the son, brother, and uncle of three successive kings of France and was himself regent of the country for a time. His lifetime was bracketed by two of the largest battles of the Hundred Years’ War between France and England. Today, he is remembered not for his royal Valois pedigree nor for his role as a ruler, but rather for his position as one of the great art collectors of all time.

Listen here to an interview with conservator Margaret Lawson about medieval illuminated manuscripts. You can learn more about the construction of medieval manuscripts here and about the history of book design in the Middle Ages here.