17 'Wie konnte das geschehen'


For centuries, the noble owners of the Très Riches Heures and the Belles Heures were probably hardly interested in the actual creators of their costly possessions. The Duc d'Aumale for a long time thought that he had discovered the identity of the painter. He thought it was a certain Nicolas Robert. It is not known why he thought this. When he became more familiar with the manuscript, he discovered ever more different 'hands'. In 1881, Léopold Delisle found an inventory of the Duc de Berry's estate in a public library in Paris, made up in the year of his death in 1416. With the help of this, he identified three brothers as the makers of the most beautiful paintings in the book. From related documents he managed to collect some more information on the Van Limburg Brothers, whom he several years later also managed to connect with the Belles Heures, which had just been purchased by the De Rothschilds. Delisle realised their 'northern' descent, but really thought of them as French. In the first half of the 20th century, the connection with Nijmegen of the Maelwaels and the Van Limburgs was known in the Netherlands. Nothing more.

The true 'discoverer' of the relation between the Maelwaels, the Van Limburgs and Nijmegen is Friedrich Gorissen, city archivist of the German town Kleef, who also published on Nijmegen subjects. In two articles in the magazine Gelre (1954 and 1957) he gives a survey of his archives' research. He speculates (there is no evidence) that the ancestors of the Nijmegen family Maelwael came from Kleef or Xanten, and he sighs: 'The Maelwaels' studio from Nijmegen has long been world-famous, without anyone realising the connection'. And also: 'Every art historian knows their oeuvre (….). Important museums are proud to own their work. But not their 'Nederrijnse' country of birth, but France counts these artists proudly as her most important exponents of late Gothic painting. How could this have happened?'
The answer is twofold: because of everything stated above, but also because their town of birth never claimed its great sons. 
Or rather, hardly ever. Gerard Lemmens, former director of the Nijmegen museum, has expressed himself on that subject several times. In his obituary at Gorissen's death, his echo briefly resounds: '(…) still no memorial stone indicates that at this location, in the Burchtstraat next to the town hall, the Van Limburg Brothers were born. With this, Nijmegen deprives herself of the umpteenth chance to present herself as a city which has had a more than regional cultural significance in past centuries (…)'. 
Now and then a single complaint, that's all.


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