Jean de Valois, Duke de Berry (known as Jean the Magnificent) was born on the 30th of November 1340 (died on the 15th of June 1416). Jean had many titles: he was Duke de Berry and d’Auvergne, as well as Count de Poitiers and de Montpensier. He was the 3rd son of King Jean II of France called the Good (le Bon) and his first wife, Bonne de Luxembourg. Jean’s marriage to Bonne, who was not very closely related to him, brought fresh blood to their progeny, and as a result, their 4 sons and most of their daughters survived to adulthood. Jean had interesting brothers: King Charles V of France, Duke Louis I d’Anjou, and Duke Philippe the Bold of Burgundy.
He was born at Château de Vincennes, one of the favorite residences of his grandfather – King Philippe VI called the Fortunate (le Fortuné). In 1358, after the disastrous Battle of Poitiers of 1356, his father made Jean royal lieutenant of Auvergne, Languedoc, Périgord, and Poitou to administer those regions for the monarch while Jean II spent his merry captivity in England. After Poitiers and other territories were ceded to England in 1360 in accordance with the Treaty of Brétigny, the newly returned King Jean II elevated his son to Duke de Berry and d’Auvergne. Jean and his brother, Louis, were not fortunate: they became hostages of the English until the huge ransom for King Jean was paid in full; while Louis escaped, Jean diligently remained in England until 1369.
Upon his return, in reward for his imprisonment in England, Prince Jean was appointed royal lieutenant general for Berry, Auvergne, Bourbonnais, Forez, Sologne, Anjou, Normandy, Maine, and Touraine. After the untimely death of Charles V, Jean and his brother, as well as the king’s maternal uncle, the Duke de Bourbon, were regents for young King Charles VI. After his appointment as Lieutenant General in Languedoc, Jean dealt with a peasants’ revolt caused by high taxes. Following Louis’ demise, he and Philippe the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, became especially prominent during the regency. Yet, after Charles VII took the hands of power in his hands in 1488, the young monarch relied upon the so-called ‘Marmousets’ – his father’s old ministers.
Jean de Berry was stripped of his many offices, but not of his lands. However, when in 1492 Charles VI began suffering from bouts of insanity, Berry and Burgundy were back to the heights of power. In 1402, the monarch had a rare moment of lucidity and gave power to his younger brother – Louis de Valois, Duke d’Orléans. After the death of Philippe the Bold, Jean de Berry remained the only living son of Jean II, and his power was soon taken from him by Jean the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy – successor of Philippe the Bold. Berry was shocked and grief-stricken when Louis d’Orléans was brutally murdered in 1407 upon the orders of Jean the Fearless. The lack of punishment and prosecution for Jean the Fearless made him bolder, and he ruthlessly grabbed the control of France in his hands. The Duke de Berry could do nothing against it.
Jean must have been sorrowful to hear bad news from Paris: the progressing madness of his nephew, King Charles VI, mismanagement of the state funds by Queen Isabeau of Bavaria, the deaths of Isabeau and Charles VI’s several sons, Jean the Fearless’ misdeeds, and, finally, the Battle of Agincourt of 1415. As the war against the English invaders began again, Jean convinced the surviving sons of Charles VI (at the time, Louis and Jean were alive, and so was Charles, later Charles VII of France) not to be present at the battle and let French generals fight for them. Jean remembered his own captivity in England following the Battle of Poitiers, and he feared that a similar fate might have befallen the king’s heirs. The Duke de Berry had a close relationship with the murdered Louis d’Orléans and with Louis’ children, and I wonder why Jean did not persuade Louis’ eldest son – Charles d’Orléans – not to participate in the Agincourt butchery. After all, Charles d’Orléans would languish for more than 30 years in English captivity after the battle.
In spite of his political activities, Prince Jean never had a heart in governance and politics. He was a peaceful and conciliatory man, one who loathed violence. The Duke de Berry was painted or carved on multiple occasions, and some of those portraits survived to this day. Berry was an active patron of the arts, starting from architecture. Jean can be called a builder-duke. Upon his orders, 17 châteaux and other residences were constructed, refurbished, or renovated, several of them with appended chapels. Architectural sculptures by illustrious French artists such as André Beauneveu and stained glass, which Jean adored, animated his châteaux and chapels inside them. Some of these things survive in museums, although the buildings were demolished or heavily damaged. Berry’s castle at Mehun-sur-Yèvres is illustrated in a manuscript leaf from 1465.
Jean de Berry maintained a nomadic ducal court and often traveled between his residences. Because of this, special furnishings and adornments were created for him in a way that they were moveable despite them being expensive and often heavy. The duke purchased numerous gorgeous tapestries and arrases depicting ancient battles, hunting scenes, religious, and allegorical themes, which were only becoming popular at the time. Berry’s coat-of-arms portrayed the Nine Worthies or Heroes: 3 from the classical times, 3 from the Hebrew Scriptures, and 3 from Christian history, all garbed in costumes of about 1400. The small figures surrounded the heroes.
Jean de Berry was a profligate and wealthy collector of rare and precious objects d’art. He gathered numerous sets of jewelry, as well as miniatures sculptures of gold, gems and enamel. He commissioned his artists to have some of his sculptures and jewelry transformed into functional objects such as saltcellars and things for liturgical usage, including portable altars and simply things called ‘joyaux.’ One of them is the small statue of the Saint Catherine made of enamel and gold; it can fit only in the palm of a hand. His medals show that Jean was interested in ancient Rome and Greece. His medal depicting the Roman Emperor Constantine was painted in the famous ‘The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry’ (The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry).
The website of the Louvre says of Jean de Valois, Duke de Berry:
“By his exacting taste, by his tireless search for artists, from Jacquemart de Hesdin to the Limbourg brothers, Jean de Berry made a decisive contribution to the renewal of art which took place in his time and to a number of religious houses, notably Notre Dame de Paris.”
The Duke de Berry was a notable collector of magnificent illuminated manuscripts such as ‘The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry’ (The Very Rich Hours of the Duke de Berry). It was created between 1412 and 1416, closer to Jean’s death, by the Limbourg brothers (Dutch miniature painters – Herman, Paul, and Johan – from the city of Nijmegen). This book was further embellished in the 1440s by Barthélemy d’Eyck, as modern art historians believe. Later, in 1485-89, this Book of Hours was again embellished and illuminated to its present state by the painter Jean Colombe. The manuscript includes 206 leaves of fine quality parchment; it is 30 cm in height by 21.5 cm in width, 66 large and 65 small miniatures. The book was illustrated by artists from the Low Countries, using rare and costly pigments and gold. It can be called one of the most illustrated late medieval illuminated manuscripts (it is now kept in Musée Condé, Chantilly, France).
Berry was an extravagant royal bibliophile. His library was not as huge as that of his nephew, King Charles V, but it included some precious books and manuscripts, including the mentioned Très Riches Heures. The rare manuscripts were gifted to him, inherited by him from relatives, or purchased for him by agents offering books from abroad or Paris. Some of them were commissioned by Jean from artists whom he patronized. The manuscripts contained religious texts (prayers and psalms), but they were made for the laity and were superbly decorated to satisfy Jean’s exquisite tastes. Berry’s another famous illuminated manuscript is the Hours of Jeanne d’Évreux, who was Queen of France and Navarre as the 3rd wife of King Charles IV of France (the last monarch of the direct Capetian line). Back then, it was traditional for nobles and royals to own gorgeous and rich illuminated manuscripts for their private prayer.
The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreux is a tiny masterpiece produced by Jean Pucelle for Queen Jeanne d’Evreux between 1324 and 1328. After her death in 1371, she bequeathed it to King Charles V, brother of Jean de Berry. After Charles V’s demise, Charles VI became its owner, and he either gifted it to his brother or sold it to Berry. Jeanne’s Hours were mentioned in Berry’s inventories, which were led by Robinet d’Étampes, who received the honorific title varlet de chamber (chamberlain). According to the standards of the time, the book is very small: the size of each vellum folio or page is 9.2 x 6.2 cm, and there are 209 folios in it, with 25 full page miniatures, as well as many other historiated initials and images in the borders of pages. In total, the Book of Hours contains more than 700 lavish illustrations, and only 10 folios have only plain text. This manuscript is now preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, USA, where it is part of the collection held at The Cloisters (accession number 54.1.2) and is usually on display.
Precious goldsmith’s work, which were made for him, include the Holy Thorn Reliquary and Royal Gold Cup, which are now kept both in the British Museum, UK. The duke patronized famous artists such as the Limbourg Brothers (professional Dutch illuminators), Jacquemart de Hesdin (a French miniature painter working in late Gothic style), and André Beauneveu (an early Netherlandish sculptor and painter from the County of Hainaut). These 3 men together with Berry’s master architect Guy de Dammartin were protégés and friends of the duke. Their careers mostly developed at Bourges that was the capital of the Duchy of Berry, where Prince Jean frequently resided. The painter known as the Boucicaut Master also worked for Berry.
The Limbourg brothers, Jacquemart de Hesdin, and André Beauneveu all contributed to the creation of the Très Belles Heures du Duc de Berry (The Beautiful Hours of Jean, Duke de Berry), the Grandes Heures du Jean de France, Duc de Berry (the Grand Hours of Jean, Duke de Berry), and the Petites Heures du Jean de France, Duc de Berry (The Small Hours of Jean, Duke de Berry). Now being kept at Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris, the Grandes Heures was commissioned by the duke in 1407 and was mainly painted by Hesdin. The manuscript is adorned with a rich cover decorated with precious stones: amethysts, diamonds, gold clasps, broom rubies, sapphires, and numerous pearls. Because of this, it is estimated that the Grandes Heures was the most expensive among the duke’s books. In the inventory of his property the book is described:
“Item is very large, there are many beautiful and rich Hours, very notably illuminated and contains large illuminated pages by Jacquemart de Hesdin and other workers of Monseigneur.”
The Petite Heures was commissioned by the Duke de Berry between 1375 and 1385-90. The limner Jean Le Noir, who was a pupil of Jean Pucelle, commenced working on the illuminations. By the time of his death in 1380, only 9 miniatures were completed. Starting from 1384, Jacquemart de Hesdin and another artist known as Pseudo-Jacquemart completed the pages with their own compositions and also painted in some of the underdrawings left by Jean le Noir. A single page was added by the Limbourg brothers in 1414. Therefore, the Petite Heures represent a fusion of all grand styles in illumination in the late Gothic 14th-century artistic styles. Berry’s parents, King Jean II of France and Bonne de Luxembourg, are a special object of devotion in the Petite Heures: there are many prayers for them and also texts copied from their respective books. This Book of Hours is also preserved in Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris, France.
The duke was married twice: first to Jeanne d’Armagnac (died in 1387), with whom he had 5 children, all of whom lived into adulthood; his 2nd spouse was Jeanne II, Countess d’Auvergne, but their union was childless. Jean de Berry passed away in Paris at the age of 75 on the 15th of June 1416 several months after the Battle of Agincourt, which was as catastrophic for France and her people as he had predicted. As he was an art collector and patron in life, Jean ensured that his tomb would be object d’art: his tomb included multiple sculptures in an ensemble completed years after his demise. Most of his manuscripts would belong to Queen Charlotte de Savoy, wife of King Louis XI, and would later become part of the royal Valois and then Bourbon library.
All images are in the public domain.
Text © 2020 Olivia Longueville