Uppsala University Library

Metalpoint drawing - Courtiers of Guelders

One of the most well known drawings in the University Library's collections is a metalpoint drawing from the early 15th century. The drawing with its two elegant couples can be traced to the Limbourg brothers in the historical region of Guelders - today a province called Gelderland in the Netherlands.

The small drawing, 17.5 x 22.5 cm, shows a little party of elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen. One theory is that the picture portrays the garden of love and the couples represent fidelity and infidelity. Allegoric love scenes with elegant figures was a common motif in the tapestries and miniatures of the late Middle Ages.

The couple on the left have a lapdog in their outstretched hands. The man on the right is holding a flute. The dog symbolises marital fidelity while the flute symbolises seduction and lust.  

The Limbourg brothers worked in Flanders and in France. Among their most famous works are the illuminations in the book of hours "Très riches heures du Duc de Berry", 1413-16 (in the Musée du Condé, Chantilly). The drawing in the Uppsala University Library can be compared with the illuminationen for the month of April in Duc de Berry's book of hours.

In the Staatsbibliothek in Berlin there is a prayer book made for the Duchess Maria of Guelders in 1415.  The lady on the left in the Uppsala drawing can be compared with one of the illustrations in Maria of Guelders' prayer book (click on SEARCH and write "Maria of Gueldern" in the "Title" field  - note the alternative spelling with an "n"). 

Metalpoint styluses have been used for drawing since classical times. The picture is etched into coated paper with the metalpoint. The lines, which start off as a pale grey-black, oxidise in time turning brownish..

The drawing is also avaliable through Alvin, Uppsala University Library's platform for digital collections and digitized cultural heritage.

Further reading

The Limbourg Brothers. Nijmegen Masters at the French Court 1400-1416. [Compiled and edited by] Rob Dückers, Pieter Roelofs. Gent, 2005.

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