Malouel et les Limbourg  


Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy's Bible moralisée is literally derived from the Très belle Bible toutte hystoriée (the very beautiful, entirely historiated Bible) of John II the Good, King of France that was illuminated around 1349-1352 under the supervision of Jean de Montmartre and in the Duke’s possession around 1402 when work on the Bible moralisée commenced. This was begun in March of that year by the brothers Paul and Jean de Limbourg, Johan Maelwael's young nephews. It is the last illuminated Bible of this kind ever made. A certain boldness was required to entrust such an undertaking – forty quires with eight miniatures per page, totalling 5.112 miniatures of scholarly subjects – to artists still in their teens. This explains the remarkable conditions stipulated in the contract: a high salary, an exclusivity clause for four years, and the obligation to work under the supervision of physician-astronomer Jean Durant, who housed the artists in his hôtel in the cloister of Notre-Dame in Paris. Philip the Bold's enthusiasm for a work that counted only three completed quires at the time of his death on 27 April 1404 is sometimes considered to be exaggerated, and according to some authors it actually related to another, now lost, Bible. The work exhibits systematic iconographic revision based on a rereading of the text, by means of which the makers were striving to surpass their model. They also chose a more time-consuming painting technique. This notwithstanding, work was far more advanced than has been assumed to date : Frames were almost completed (see fol. 105), and underdrawings by the Limbourg brothers are visible underneath later repaints until the fifteenth quire.

[…] The addition of a canon among ‘the good people in the church’ to whom the prelates entrust the governing of the souls (fol. 12) is surely an allusion to the walled canonical enclosure where the brothers were staying at the time, while the extremely accurately rendered astronomical sighting and measuring instruments - astrolabe, telescope, and sextants (fols. 5v, 13v, 24v) - reference the erudition of their host Jean Durant. A previously unnoticed heraldic indication confirms that Ms. fr. 166 is, indeed, the ‘very beautiful and notable Bible' of Philip the Bold: on fol. 14 the herald announcing Joseph's new Egyptian title (Genesis 41: 37-49) wears a cloak embroidered with shields azure, a bend or, which appear to be a reworking of the old Burgundy coat of arms (bendy of or and azure, a bordure gules), which means he is a Burgundian herald of arms.


I. Villela-Petit, « Bible moralisée », dans P. Roelofs éd., Johan Maelwael, Amsterdam (Rijksmuseum), octobre 2017-janvier 2018, n° 18, p. 116-117.

Voir aussi n° 26, p. 132-135 ; n° 35, p. 152-153 ; et n° 36, p. 154-155.