A veritable icon of the Middle Ages, the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry is the jewel of the Musée Condé collections at the Château de Chantilly. It is a prestigious manuscript of exceptional artistic quality, refined ornamentation and rich iconography. Painted in France in the 15th century, it forms a museum of 131 paintings evoking fairytale castles, princely scenes and the work of the fields to the unchanging rhythm of the seasons.
In anticipation of the major exhibition to be staged at the Château in 2025, the “Mona Lisa of Manuscripts” is currently undergoing in-depth analysis by the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France (C2RMF). A first in its history.
The manuscript box (1867) © RMN – Grand Palais Domaine de Chantilly / Michel Urtado
This Book of Hours is as famous as it is discreet because it has become so fragile over time. While it was at the forefront of art in the time of the Duc de Berry (1340-1416), and then at the cutting edge of scholarly knowledge under the Duc d'Aumale, who bought it in 1856, the Musée Condé must now, in an exemplary fashion, ensure its preservation in the face of signs of deterioration, promote the renewal of knowledge about the manuscript and enhance the value of a masterpiece that will continue to nourish the imagination of future generations.
Faced with these challenges, the Musée Condé enjoys the support of major French conservation and research institutions such as the Bibliothèque nationale de France and the C2RMF, as well as the patronage of the Fondation Etrillard, currently the sole sponsor of the project.
© Sophie Lloyd - The Chantilly Castle
The manuscript spent an exceptional period in the C2RMF laboratories at the Louvre from March to May 2023. There, it benefited from the very best imaging techniques and was explored in depth by the restorers, who were able to examine weakened areas to gain a better understanding of its alterations. In addition to guiding the restoration work, this corpus of images is then analysed to gain a better understanding of the book's craftsmanship and iconography, particularly the bold brushstrokes of its painters.
As the culmination of this vast project, a temporary exhibition will be organised from June to October 2025 to present the progress of research into the manuscript. This exhibition will be on an international scale, showcasing the Chantilly treasure and explaining its importance and power of fascination. These horae have only been exhibited twice in the last century, in 1956 and 2004. For the first and probably last time, the unbound first pages of the manuscript will be shown to the public. The best-known pages of the calendar will all be shown at once, before being returned to their restored bindings, leaving a perfectly preserved masterpiece for future generations.
Read the full manuscript here on chateaudechantilly.fr
Read the article of Paris Diary by Laure here
© IRHT CNRS / Bibliothèque du Château de Chantilly / Gilles Kagan