The Limbourg brothers, or in Dutch Gebroeders van Limburg
(Herman, Paul, and Johan; 1385..1416), were famous Dutch medieval
miniaturist painters from the city of Nijmegen. They were active in
the early 15th century in France. They are best known for the
illuminated manuscript Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry.
Their grandfather called Johannes de Lymborgh probably
came from Limbourg on the Meuse to Nijmegen, then the capital of the
duchy of Gelre. His son Arnold was a wood carver who worked for the
ducal court. Around 1385 he married Mechteld Maelwael, daughter of a
well-todo family of heraldic painters. Herman (Hermant in
French sources) was the eldest child (born about 1385), followed by
Paul (Polleke; or Polequin in French sources: 1386 or 1387),
and Johan (Johanneke; or Jacquemin, Gillequin, or
Jehanequin in French sources: probably 1388). They had younger
brothers Rutger and Arnold, and a sister Greta.
About 1398, after their father's death, their mother sent them to
her brother Johan Maelwael (Jehan Maleuel in French sources),
a heraldic painter who worked for the French and Burgundian courts.
Herman and Johan learned the craft of goldsmith in Paris. At the end
of 1399 they returned to visit Nijmegen, but because of a war were
captured in Brussel. Their mother could not pay the ransom of 55
gold escuz. The local gold smith guild started to collect the
money, but eventually Philip the Bold paid the ransom for the sake
of their uncle, his painter; the two boys were released in May 1400.
From preserved documents it is known that in February 1402 Paul
and Johan were contracted by Philip to work for four years
exclusively on illuminating a bible. This may or may not have been
the Bible Moralisee, Ms.fr.166 in the Bibliotheque nationale
de France in Paris, which is indisputably an early work by the
Limbourg brothers. Philip died in 1404, before the brothers had
completed their work.
Herman, Paul, and Johan later in 1404 came to work for Jean de
Berry, a brother of the deceased Philip. He was an extravagant
collectioner of arts and especially books. Their first assignment
was to illuminate a Book of Hours, now known as the Belles Heures du
Duc de Berry; it is preserved in The Cloisters of the Metropolitan
Museum in New York.
This work was finished in 1409 much to the satisfaction of the
duke, and he assigned them to an even more ambitious project for a
Book of Hours. This became the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry,
which is widely regarded as the ultimate of medieval book
illumination, and possibly the most valuable book in the world. It
is kept as Ms.65 in the Musee Conde in Chantilly, France.
Especially Paul was on good terms with the duke, and became a
valet de chambre (personal servant). The duke gave him jewelry
and a big house in Bourges. Paul took fancy of a young girl,
Gillette la Merciere, but her parents disapproved. The duke had the
girl confined, and released her only on command of the king. In 1411
Paul and Gillette married anyway, but the marriage remained
childless (the girl was 12, her husband 24 at the time).
In the first half of 1416, Jean de Berry and the three brothers
Limbourg (all three less than 30 years old) died of unkown causes,
and the Tres Riches Heures remained unfinished. An unidentified
artist (possibly Barthelemy van Eyck) worked on the famous calendar
miniatures in the 1440's when the book apparently was in the
possession of Rene d'Anjou, and in 1485 Jean Colombe finished the
work for the House of Savoy.