10 Van Limburg brothers: to Paris and Bourges

 

During the last years of his life, Philip the Bold stayed in Paris for the main part of the year, where he usually enjoyed the hospitality of his brother and most intimate friend, the Duc de Berry. Undoubtedly, the Duke knew the work of the Van Limburg Brothers and saw the talent in these three young men. After Philip's death, he immediately engaged them. The Duke's faith in the brothers was such, that he, after a brief period of getting acquainted, gave the assignment for a completely new book of hours, the manuscript which later would be known as 'Belles Heures de Jean, Duc de Berry'. This manuscript survived the centuries, and can now be found in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Probably, the brothers were, at this time or briefly after, also involved in the redecoration of the Château de Bicêtre (presently only a metro stop) in Paris. The murals and painted panelling they made there were lost within a few years, during the popular uprising against the Duc de Berry, when the castle was stormed and looted (1411). 
In 1408, the brothers must have been under the duke's umbrella for some time, because in that year a strange affair takes place: charges are brought against the Duc de Berry in the Paris Parliament on account of abduction of an eight-year-old girl from a respected family in his capital Bourges. The duke had ordered the kidnapping of the girl, Gillette le Mercier, in order for her to be able to marry Paul van Limburg, his court painter, 20 years her senior, against her mother's wishes (she was a widow). The case was settled by mutual agreement, and Paul and Gillette actually married when the bride turned twelve. Gillette survived her husband about 18 years, remarried and died, childless, in 1434.
In 1409, another circumstance occurred to indicate how much the duke wanted to secure his leading painter's favour: he gave Paul van Limburg a large house ('good enough for a prince') at a fine location in Bourges. 
One year later, the brothers had obviously decided their future was in France. Herman and Jan gave their houses including household goods in Nijmegen to their mother.
During the last ten years of their lives, the Van Limburg Brothers belonged to the intimate friends of the Duke. They were courtiers in the classic sense of the word. The patron and his artists associated with each other in a relaxed atmosphere.
The splendour-loving duke was insatiable as a collector. One magnificent book would hardly be completed before work was started on a next one, even more beautiful and more innovating; with the 'Très Riches Heures', probably started in 1411, as the pièce de résistance of the makers as well as the patron. 
And as so often occurred in the history of art, these artistic record performances were turned in amid war, chaos and pestilence. Bourges, the city where the brothers worked, was under siege by the Burgundians for months, the plague had reappeared in the country, the Hundred-Years War went disastrously for the Duke (battle at Agincourt), and the mob destroyed his favourite castles and put him to flight.
On June 15, 1416, one year after the crushing French defeat at Agincourt, the Duke died at age seventy-five.
Possibly, the Van Limburg Brothers immediately stopped their work on the Très Riches Heures. The duke rarely paid in advance. Despite his enormous income, he had during his life now and then run up formidable debts, also with his courtiers, even with the Van Limburg Brothers.

 

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