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In Illumination:  From Divine to Port  |  From Drinking to Savoir-boire  |  From Vineyard to Port  

From Vineyard to Harvest, and from Cellar to Port

Très Riches heures du Duc de Berry, calendrier, mars - Barthélémy d'Eyck, c. 1440 - Musée Condé, Chantilly | De vigne en vendange, de cave en port | Enluminure | Vin et Peinture | Le Musée Vituel du Vin


Limbourg brothers and et Barthélémy d'Eyck, c. 1440

Condé Museum, Chantilly, France



The Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry was the culmination of a project spanning more than 80 years. It was commissioned by the Duke of Berry from the de Limbourg brothers around 1410-11. Left unfinished when the three painters and their sponsor died in 1416, some of the manuscript’s miniatures were probably completed in the 1440s by an anonymous painter, whom some art historians believe to have been Barthélemy d’Eyck. In 1485-89, the work was completed by the painter Jean Colombe on behalf of the Duke of Savoy. This illumination is included in the first and most famous part of the manuscript: the calendar. The month of March is illustrated by the agricultural labour carried out at the end of winter. Each field contains a different part of the work; all are separated by paths which cross at a monument known as a ‘montjoie’. In the foreground, a peasant works in a cornfield. He is driving a two-wheeled plough, pulled by two cows, with the help of a long stick. In an enclosure on the right, vineyard workers are pruning a mass of vines and tilling the soil with a hoe to aerate it. March has always been the best month for pruning.e

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On the right, a man is hunched over a bag; doubtless it contains seeds for sowing. In the background, a shepherd is accompanied by his sheepdog. The Chateau de Lusignan, in the Poiteau region of France, dominates the scene. The castle was modernised by the Duc de Berry, its owner. To the right of the image, above one of the towers, flies a winged dragon representing the fairy Melusine. In 1392, Jean d’Arras wrote the Noble histoire de Lusignan, also known as the Roman de Mélusine, for Jean de Berry. It is the story of the fairy, an imaginary ancestor of the Duc de Berry. According to legend, Mélusine gave birth to the Lusignan bloodline and built the fortress. The wife of Raymondin de Lusignan, she promised him wealth and happiness, on the condition that he must never see her on Saturdays, when she took on the appearance of a dragon. One day, Raymondin broke his promise and watched his wife bathing. Thus unmasked, the fairy fled.


During the Middle Ages, vines surrounded towns and cities almost regardless of climate. This proximity was doubtless a means of avoiding transporting the wine, which was subject to heavy taxes and the various hazards of the period. People only drank wine produced in their local area. Vine cultivation boomed in the Middle Ages. Anything was preferable to water! Viticulture is very widely represented in illuminations – the only iconography of the time to show genre scenes. The liturgical and symbolic importance of wine to the Christian world, like that of bread, gave it a choice position in the culture’s iconography. The trimming of the vines in February or March, crucial for future production, is one of the most common motifs, especially in calendars.


Images of miniatures and manuscripts certainly give us greater insight into life in the Middle Ages, especially in terms of the peasants’ labour over the course of the agricultural year. The iconographic theme of the calendar allows this to be depicted fully. Illumination is the only iconography of the time to show genre scenes.Viticulture is very widely represented in illuminations – the only iconography of the time to show genre scenes.In the 12th and 13th centuries, representations of the months featuring peasants at work figured in church décor, appearing on doorways, column heads and stained glass windows. It was also from this period that calendars began to adorn many liturgical texts. Although representations of work by month dwindled in the 14th and 15th centuries, appearing only on a few secular buildings, such images continued to decorate prayer books. By adopting pagan imagery already embedded in Greco-Roman Antiquity, the Church and its theologians gave a new sense to these scenes: that of Man, after the fall of Adam and Eve, suffering work as both a punishment and a means to redemption.


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1 to 9.  March and September marked the two biggest moments of the year: the pruning of the vine and the harvest. Sometimes these tasks overflowed into the months of April (late pruning), August (harvest and winemaking preparations) and October (late harvest and/or pressing of the grapes). The end of the winter was also the moment of planting (Weinbau Psalter) and building up the earth (Bréviaire Grimani). Today, this latter task is carried out in November or December. For vineyards built on slopes and subject to water flows, the vines planted on the summit of hills tend to shift; the surrounding soil needs to be built back up.


4. Pietro de' Crescenzi’s Book of Rural Benefits illustrates the vine pruning process. This was done with a wide-bladed knife. The worker, stooping forward, grabs the vine shoot above the blade, which he is holding in his right hand. In the background, another peasant carries out the same task, kneeling to reach the lowest branches.


> Click on the icons for a closer look at the artworks


> Click on the icons for a closer look at the artworks

2.  Le Pontifical de Guillaume Durand est orné de nombreuses peintures. Celles des marges sont des caricatures de la vie du Moyen-Âge, où les personnages sont représentés par des animaux réels ou fantastiques, par des singes surtout.


Michel Pastoureau nous rappelle que si "l'homme était le champion antique du sens du goût, il est au Moyen-Âge supplanté dans ce rôle par le singe, qui porte tout à sa bouche. » C'est un animal qui veut ressembler à l'homme, on dit bien le "singer". Il semble donc bien naturel de le retrouver ici en viticulteur qui s'apprête à "taster" son vin", tout comme un bon moine.


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