16 Van Limburg Brothers: Present-day appreciation
Très Riches Heures is still the most important art treasure of the Musée Condé, the museum of the Institut de France, in Chantilly, just north of Paris. Unfortunately, no-one is allowed to look at it anymore, not even in a scholarly context. The manuscript is put away forever, as was officially announced in 1986 'for the sake of conservation and from the view of monetary value'.
Present-day visitors are only shown one badly lit double page from a facsimile-edition in the hall of the museum, with a very summary explanation. Somewhere else, the persistent tourist can find a superficial flyer. That's all.
What a difference in the museum shop! There, everything revolves around the Très Riches Heures. Calendars, books, posters, phone indexes, handkerchiefs, porcelain, placemats, all kinds of things are for sale. Here, the Van Limburg Brothers completely push aside the competition. The visitors' preference is shown in the amount of merchandising: whatever can be viewed in Chantilly - and that is quite something - the public wants the Très Riches Heures. The fact that the manuscript was 'bricked in' caused upheaval and confusion in the art world in the 1980's. The New York Times wrote: 'If no-one is admitted to a certain manuscript, that manuscript has no reason for existence'. The Institut de France did (and does) not flinch but did sell the rights to publish the Très Riches Heures in a 'top of the line' facsimile-edition to a specialised Swiss publisher. And so it happened. This once-only publication cost more than 12,000 euro at subscription and was quickly sold out. At the publisher, a number of single sheets are still for sale at 80 to 150 euro a piece.
The facsimile-edition of the Belles Heures is at this moment in preparation with the same publisher, Faksimilé-Verlag Luzern. The price will be several ten thousands of euro.
Merchandising around the work of the Van Limburg Brothers is remarkable. Not only in Chantilly and New York, but all over the world museum shops and others sell reproductions in the shape of picture postcards, posters and calendars. There are only few painters whose work is so often chosen for the cover of books and magazines. Every year, books and articles appear about the work of the Van Limburg Brothers. Without exception, these publications centre on the individual manuscripts or the patron. The painters themselves only play a marginal role, their background remains underexposed.
The Van Limburgs are also emphatically present on the internet. Many sites are devoted to both manuscripts. Here the same pattern can be found, little attention for the makers, much attention for the work itself and for the patron. The merchandising on the net is sizeable and diverse: Très Riches Heures-earrings for a small sum, antiquarian facsimiles for a fortune.