Jean, Duke of Berry

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Jean, Duke of Berry


Patron of the arts

An Aristocratic Patron of the Arts.

Jean, duke of Berry, was a Capetian prince and brother to the French king Charles V, Duke Philip the Bold of Burgundy, and Duke Louis I of Anjou. He was born in 1340 in Vincennes and died in Paris in 1416 during a plague epidemic. Probably one the greatest art patrons of his time, Jean had an eclectic taste and collected a variety of artifacts of immeasurable value, both ancient and modern, including antique coins and cameos, jewels, gold and silver vessels, tapestries, 1,500 dogs, and even ostriches and camels. Most noteworthy, however, was his collection of illuminated manuscripts. Three extant inventories provide a glimpse of the range and scope of his library of 300 books, of which only about 100 have survived, scattered today among various libraries throughout the world. His outstanding collection of books, which he tended to maintain at his castle at Mehun, comprised many kinds of texts, such as Trojan histories, chronicles, astronomical treatises, mappaemundi (representational maps), and religious books. He attracted artists of renown to his court, and his enlightened patronage encouraged their creativity and originality, as well as the mixing of stylistic influences from France, Flanders, and Italy. Jacquemart de Hesdin, Jean Le Noir, André Beauneveu, and the Limbourg brothers were just a few of the most famous artists who produced works for the duke's collection and for his many castles (seventeen in all) at Poitiers, Dourdan, Mehun, Lusignan, Bicêtre (Paris), and other places. In some of his books can be found the duke's coat of arms, emblem, and the motto "The time will come." His portrait appears in several manuscripts: in a wishful entry into heaven in the Grandes Heures (Great Hours); introduced to the Virgin by his patron saints Andrew and John the Baptist in the Belles Heures (Beautiful Hours); or welcoming his guests at his first-of-the-year banquet in the Très Riches Heures (Very Lavish Hours). In his Grandes Heures, a bear and a swan occupy the margins of a page that features the arms of France. This is a play on the words ours (bear) and cygne (swan) that together stand for Oursine, the name of a mysterious woman the duke once loved. Records show that Jean, duke of Berry, was a generous patron with his artists, bestowing upon them many gifts (such as coins, rings, and diamonds, on special occasions) in addition to substantial financial compensation, which was often sufficient to enable the purchase of a house. Artists traveled with the duke from one to the other of his many residences. All in all, the duke stands as an example of the type of enlightened collector and patron of the arts who helped bring about the creation of many great works in a period generally known for its artistic excellence.


Françoise Lehoux, Jean de France, duc de Berri: sa vie, son action politique. 4 vols. (Paris: Picard, 1966–1968).

Millard Meiss, French Painting in the Time of Jean de Berry: The Late Fourteenth Century and the Patronage of the Duke (London: Phaidon, 1969).