The Limbourg Brothers (Lam-Boor)

BIOGRAPHY: The Limbourg Brothers

Captured and held for ransom, Herman and Johan Limbourg wondered what they should do. The boys were on their way home to Nijemegen (Nigh-may-gun) for a visit, and now they were prisoners of war. Their widowed mother would never be able to pay for their freedom.

In 1399, the brothers had no choice but to sit and wait for their rescue. Together with their brother Paul, they had moved from their home in the Netherlands to live with their uncle in France when their father, a well-known wood sculptor, had passed away. Their uncle, Jean Malouel, was the most important painter for the French court at the time. Herman and Johan had been working as apprentices in Paris, learning the craft of goldsmithing. Now all they could do was hope the local goldsmiths' guild could collect enough ransom money.

The boys' uncle, who painted for Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy (the fourth son of King John II of France), went to his patron. Philip matched the money raised by the guild, and the boys were released and reunited with Paul. In 1402, Herman and Johan signed a four year contract with Philip to illustrate the Bible.

As all books during this time, Philip's Bible was handwritten. The Limbourg brothers were to "illuminate" it with original, one-of-a-kind, detailed paintings decorated with gold. Over time, they became masters of this form of illuminating. When Philip died in 1404, the Herman, Paul, and Johan went to work for Philip's brother and the last surviving son of King John, Jean de Berry (John, Duke of Berry).

The Duke was an extravagant collector of the visual arts, especially books. He commissioned the Limbourg brothers to illuminate a Book of Hours, a prayer book with prayers for specific times such as seasons, months, days of the week, and even hours of the day. Using a variety of colors obtained from minerals, plants, chemicals, and extremely fine brushes, the Limbourgs illustrated the pages with intricate designs. This book, now known as the Belles Heures du Duc de Berry, can be seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Pleased with the completion of the first Book of Hours in 1409, the Duke gave the Limbourg brothers another one to complete, known as the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. This second book is often regarded as the height of late medieval book illumination and is possibly the most valuable book in the world. It is kept in Grand Château in Chantilly, France, though the pages on display are copies, not the original.

The duke especially favored Paul, giving him the same court position his uncle once held with Philip the Bold. When Paul met a young girl he wanted to marry, her parents refused. The duke had the girl confined, releasing her only when the king commanded it. In 1411 the two married anyway, the girl being twelve years old and Paul twenty-four at the time.

During the first half of 1416, all three of the Limbourg brothers and the duke died, most likely as from a plague. Though they had not finished the Très Riches Heures, other artists later completed it.



* Cardstock (I used speckled tan cardstock to give it a more antique effect, but you can use any type. Cardstock is recommended over regular drawing or computer paper because it is thicker. A thinner paper will most likely buckle when the paint is applied Other papers you could use would be watercolor paper (thin and lightweight is fine) or Bristol drawing paper.

*Scripture verses/references, proverbs, or sayings.



*Acrylic paints (acrylic craft paints are fine). I prefer these over tempra paints, as I think they provide better coverage and control.

*Reference pictures of items that might be used to illustrate the text. These can be found online doing a google image search or a clip art search. Examples for scripture verses include: cross, lily, dove, angels, nativity scene, shepherds, lambs. Also vines, ivy, and flowers make good references.

*Gold Leaf with Glue or Gold Acrylic Paint


The Limbourg brothers illuminated, or illustrated, books such as the Bible and prayer books. To create your own illuminated page, begin by choosing a Bible verse, poem, or saying you would like to illustrate.

1. Using a computer, type the verse so it fits on one page. You can highlight the verse and then center it using the buttons on the toolbar. The font I like is Blackadder ITC (36 or 48 point) because of its antique look. If you don’t want to use a computer, simply print the verse by hand.

NOTE: Illustrators like the Limbourg brothers often decorated the first letter of a passage, making it larger than the other letters and adding pictures or embellishments to it. When you type or write the verse, be sure to LEAVE OFF the first letter – it will be drawn by hand and decorated later.

Some of the verses you might choose can focus on the birth or resurrection of Jesus Christ. These can be illustrated with familiar Christmas and Easter images. These scriptures include: Luke 1:30-31; Luke 2:14, John 1:4, and Matthew 28:5-6.

2. Now you’re ready to begin! With a pencil, draw the first letter that’s been left out. You can create your own design of this letter or use a copy of the letter in the same font your verse is in for reference. Draw this letter much larger than the printed words. You can decorate, or illuminate, it with a person, an animal, leaves, a design – it’s up to you!

3. Continue drawing more illustrations in pencil. These can be in the corners, around the sides of the page, or near the words.

4. Satisfied with your drawing? Begin to paint it in using the acrylic paints. Don’t worry if you make a mistake – these paints are very forgiving, and once dry, you can paint over top of them again. White will even paint right over dark colors. Most areas you paint will be small, so use small brushes. Use the paint to finish your large capital letter as well.

5. The Limbourg brothers embellished with gold, so we will too! Once the paint is dry (acrylics dry quickly), you can apply the gold “leaf”. I used imitation gold leaf (such as Mona Lisa Simple Leaf) with a glue pen that came with it. I found through trial and error, though, that the gold only seemed to stick when the glue was applied to an area that had been painted. When the glue was applied to the paper itself, the gold didn’t stay. Once the glue is applied, wait about five minutes, then press the gold leaf and rub it over the glue (these directions are included with the product).

An easier way to add gold to your picture is to use gold acrylic paint. Use small amounts to embellish the illustrations you’ve already painted.

Great job! You’ve just illuminated a text!