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Nijmegen museum shows miniatures from New York’s Met

Record number of visitors

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

NIJMEGEN - Fifteenth century miniatures painted by the Dutch Van Limburg Brothers were a record-breaking draw at a recent exhibit at the Valkhof Museum. To accommodate the visitors, which flocked to the Nijmegen museum during the last few weeks of the event, the institute opened its doors earlier and stayed open later. The event was staged to mark the city’s 2,000th anniversary.

An estimated 85,000 people visited the exhibit, which had been open for twelve weeks. The paintings - actually pages from one-of-a-kind Books of the Hours - by the Nijmegen-born Van Limburg brothers had been on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. They had never before been exhibited in Europe.

Herman, Paul and Jean van Limburg were born in Nijmegen, then part of the Duchy of Guelders, at the end of the 14th century. Barely out of their teens, they moved to France where they soon were commissioned by Duke Jean de Berry to illuminate his Books of Hours. These books include a calendar and pages with prayers and illustrations that correspond with the religious holidays and feast days of the saints throughout the year. Every day, the prayers were recited at a specific time.

Every day life

The enhancement of such prayer books elevated them to status symbols for the owners, reflecting the wealth and influence of the noblemen, who commissioned the artists. Already rare, these manuscripts thus became singular works of art. Of the Books of Hours, the displayed Les Très Riches Heures and Les Belles Heures are the most famous, and show the brothers’ art in gold and brilliant colours at its peak. As well, the miniatures provide images of everyday life in the Middle Ages.

The exbibition ‘The Limbourg brothers Nijmegen masters at the French court - 1400 - 1416’ offered more than the original book illustrations by the Nijmegen-born brothers. Over 130 pieces were shown, including other manuscripts, panel paintings, sculptures, and metalwork of contemporaries and successors of the Van Limburg brothers. The exhibition also shed light on the rich artistic tradition in the Duchy of Guelders and surrounding areas, which helped shape the art of the brothers.

The three sons of local woodcarver Arnold van Limburg - his name is an indication of his roots in Limburg - and his wife Machteld van Malouel (or Maelwael) learnt their craft from their father, but in particular from their uncle, a painter called Jan van Maelwael. In the early years of the 15th century, Herman (likely born as Hermant), Paul (or Pol) and Jean (Jan or Johan) were working at the court of Philip II the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, the brother of Jean de Berry. The brothers all died in 1416, the same year as Jean de Berry, in the French town of Bourges. They all fell victim to the plague epidemic that hit Europe that year.