Following on from my previous post here are more details about Barthélemy d’Eyck’s connection to the Très Riche Heures, as revealed in the November calendar folio painted by Jean Colombe.
The scene depicts an acorn harvest. The main figure is about to hurl his stick at the branches of the oak trees to bring down acorns for his swine herd to feed on. His dog sits and stares at the swine feasting. Two other men watch over some of the herd that has strayed into the edge of the woods. A castle is nestled at the foot of the hill. Built into the side of the hill is seemingly a collection of caves. Distant hills rise above a lake fronted by pasture land and more wooded areas.
The acorns are not difficult to spot in the foreground. The golden glow of the man’s tunic also catches the eye. Its radiance adds charisma to the figure, as does his bold stance. He is the most prominent feature in the scene, towering above the boars. There’s no doubt Jean Colombe is presenting the man as the main attraction in the frame. But for what reason?
Was he known to Colombe in some way – another artist, perhaps, and not a simple peasant working with pigs as portrayed? Could he portray Colombe’s version of the Prodigal Son who would have been happy to eat the food of pigs in his hungry state, except this particular son appears to be more that well-nourished with his rotund abdomen shaped like a pig’s back.
The iconography provides more than enough evidence about the man appearing to tilt at windmills. He is Barthélemy d’Eyck.
The November folio is inserted between the calendar months of October and December, both painted by Barthélemy. The October scene shows two men tilling the soil and sowing seed for a new crop.
In Colombe’s November painting we see the man ‘raked’ in light, a ‘crop’ or whip in his hand, formed by the stick coupled with some dead branches. The acorns are not always snaffled by the pigs. From little acorns grow great oaks as evidenced by the forest of trees, but especially the sign of new life appearing beneath the man’s right arm.
The December folio shows one of the fattened swine speared by a hunter and savaged by a pack of dogs, most likely to serve as food for feasting at Christmas and New Year. This completes the calendar cycle to start again with the month of January and provide the link back to Barthélemy d’Eyck.
So what could be the reason why Barthélemy stepped out of sequence and not produce the November folio? Whatever the cause, Jean Colombe has cleverly made a point of painting the insert to refer back to a piece of iconography in the January folio. In fact, most of the disguised iconography in the November miniature is a translation of hidden devices used by Barthélemy to create several themes within the January banquet scene. Just as the pigs search for acorns on the ground to feed on, so Colombe invites the viewer to his version of the banquet to unearth and savour the the buried delights and treasure he has translated from the January folio. .
As to the two figures in the background, they represent Hugo and Jan van Eyck. This will be explained in another post along with details of a feast of other iconography in the November folio.
Finally, there is a portrait painting housed at the Museum der bildenden Künste in Leipzig, that bears more than a passing resemblance to the version of Barthélemy d’Eyck in the November miniature. It’s attributed to Jan van Eyck, or a follower. Could it be Barthélemy?