The Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux
The Book of Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux (Livre d'heures)
Grisaille, tempera and ink on parchment, 8.9 x 6.2 cm
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters Collection, 54.1.2
This exquisite and lavishly illustrated prayer book (Book of Hours) was created between 1324 and 1328 for Jeanne d'Évreux, queen of France, by the celebrated Parisian illuminator Jean Pucelle (active ca. 1320–34) and was intended for use by the queen during private prayer throughout the course of the day.
The 209 folios of The Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux include twenty-five full-page paintings with paired images from the Infancy and Passion of Christ and scenes of the life of Saint Louis. The figures are rendered in delicate grisaille (shades of gray) that imparts an amazingly sculptural quality, and the images are accented with rich reds and blues and with touches of orange and yellow, pink, lilac, and turquoise. In the margins, close to seven hundred illustrations depict the bishops, beggars, street dancers, maidens, and musicians that peopled the streets of medieval Paris, as well as apes, rabbits, dogs, and creatures of sheer fantasy. All are brought to life by the keen observation, accomplished draftsmanship, and consummate imagination of the artist.
The illustrated book contains not even a hint of gold, and color appears in it only in a limited way. Its figures, rather, are predominately rendered in grisaille and set within monochrome, penwork frames, with color selectively employed to provide accents or as a backdrop against which figures are placed. Its drawing-like effects made much of an artist’s skills, highlighting his ability to create mesmerizing, illusionistic effects.
Many secular ivories remind us of another another distinctive northern element evident in the Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux. Scenes of courtly elegance like the ones showing the chess game are enframed by fanciful hybrid creatures. The monsters in the ivory may be compared to marginal details of the Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux like the monster in the bas-de-page on folio 160. The frame of the mirror can also be compared to some initials. The marginal world of the Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux is one of the most remarkable examples of the medieval fascination with drolleries and grotesques. The marginal figures turn the courtly world upside down and full of antitheses. In the Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux the dominant courtly refinement of the nobility is juxtaposed in the margins with the bawdy carnality of the lower classes. In this marginal world, the natural order and its clear divisions tend to disappear. Categories such as human, animal, vegetable, and mineral are deliberately mixed in the fabulous creatures in the margins.
Bernard of Claivaux, Apologia to William, Abbot of St.-Thierry, 1125: "I will overlook the immense heights of the places of prayer, their immoderate lengths, their superfluous widths, the costly refinements, and painstaking representations which deflect the attention while they are in them of those who pray and thus hinder their devotion." Notably, in the very same letter, Bernard aptly asks: "which is the point of those beautiful deformities and deformed beauties?" Gombrich argues that the point is that there is no point. Vandergriff, however, may understand them as typical expressions of the Gothic era materialism. Significantly, in those days even medieval grotesqueries became most abundant.
1. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History: The Hours of Jeanne d'Evreux, Metropolitan Museum of New York, 2000-.
3. Pen and Parchment
4. Allen Farbrer: Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux
5. Conrad Rudolph, Things of Greater Importance: Bernard of Clairvaux's Apologia and the Medieval Attitude toward Art, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY: Collection Entry and Heilbrunn Timeline
Allen Farbrer: Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux
Misty Amanda Vandergriff: Gothic Materialism, 2004
Wikimedia Commons: The Hours of Jeanne d'Évreux
Additional exploration topics: Cryptozoology, Old Books and Manuscripts, Grotesque, Ornaments, Engravings