LIMBOURG brothers
(b. 1370-80, Nijmegen, d. 1416, Nijmegen)

Les très riches heures du Duc de Berry: Mars (March)

Manuscript (Ms. 65), 294 x 210 mm
Musée Condé, Chantilly


This miniature, like the representations of the other eleven months, occupies a whole page of the Book of Hours, while the text referring to it is on the right-hand page, opposite it. The lack of border decoration conforms with the original intention of the painters. In addition to the signs of the zodiac and the figure of Apollo holding the flaming sun the semicircle at the top provides detailed astronomical information for every day of the month of March. It shows, for example, the positions of the moon, the times of sunrise and sunset, etc. These precise scientific details are accurately reflected by the painting, which shows the agricultural labours of the months and evokes the light of March sun and frequent March showers (see in the left upper corner the sheep, the shepherd and the dog running for shelter before the rain). The textures of the gently sloping ground differ according to whether they show unbroken grassy field, freshly ploughed furrows, pasture for sheep or dusty roads.

It is not scenes recalling stage settings of broad outlines we can see, but living landscapes, with figures moving freely in them. The proportions of the figures are in harmony with the places they occupy in the vast spaces. If they were removed, it would not change the unity of the landscape. At the same time, the figures are organic parts of their surroundings, they live in them and not in front of them. The bodies of the peasant and his oxen cast a shadow onto the furrows, while blades of grass can be seen before their feet.

A firm geometrical frame unites the composition. The Lusignan Castle of the Duc de Berry crowns the landscape parallel with the horizontal line of the oxen, plough and peasant. The road running from the two bottom corners divides the middle distance into four parts and the fields created in this way are further separated diagonally by low stone walls. Due to slight irregularities and to tiny details which absorb the spectator's attention and to the fact that the viewpoint is not in the centre but slightly to the left, this system of lines does not appear to be arid. In all likelihood with this the Limbourgs wanted to get the picture closer to the opposite page with the text. The dragon flying towards the castle recalled to his contemporaries the legend of the lady of the castle who had been turned into a dragon. It makes us realize that in the wide blue skies of the Limbourgs there was still room for the naive ideas of the International Gothic style.