THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

70 posts categorized "Calendars"

01 July 2015

A Calendar Page for July 2015

Add comment Comments (0)

To find out more about the London Rothschild Hours, take a look at our post A Calendar Page for January 2015

Add_ms_35313_f004v
Calendar page for July, with decorative border comprising a Zodiac sign, roundels, and bas-de-page scene, from the London Rothschild Hours, Southern Netherlands (?Ghent), c. 1500,
Add MS 35313, f. 4v 

The agrarian labours continue in this month’s bas-de-page scene. Amidst a gently rolling landscape, two men are mowing grass with scythes. To the left, a woman is using a pitchfork to turn the grass to dry into hay in the sunshine. Another woman approaches from the background, bearing a basket on her head and a satchel in her hand – perhaps containing refreshments for the workers. Note how the artist has included little details to convey a sense of the midsummer heat: the broad-brimmed hats the labourers are wearing to protect their faces from the sun, and the rolled-up sleeves of the man on the right. The roundels for July show the key religious dates for the month: the Visitation of the Virgin Mary, the Translation of the Relics of St Thomas the Apostle, and the feast days of St Benedict, St Mary Magdalene, and Sts James and Christopher. A lion – the Zodiac sign for Leo – is included as a header in the calendar. 

Add_ms_35313_f004v_labour
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of peasants making hay,
Add MS 35313, f. 4v 

Add_ms_35313_f004v_marymagdalene
Detail of a roundel showing St Mary Magdalene,
Add MS 35313, f. 4v 

- James Freeman

01 June 2015

A Calendar Page for June 2015

Add comment Comments (0)

To find out more about the London Rothschild Hours, take a look at our post A Calendar Page for January 2015

Add_ms_35313_f004r
Calendar page for June, with decorative border comprising a Zodiac sign, roundels, and bas-de-page scene, from the London Rothschild Hours, Southern Netherlands (?Ghent), c. 1500,
Add MS 35313, f. 4r 

In June, we are taken back to the labours of the peasantry with a scene of sheep-shearing. Two men sit and remove two sheep’s wool with hand-clippers, while a third bundles another unwilling sheep out of a nearby barn. A freshly shorn sheep grazes to the right, before a gaggle of geese. Five religious festivals have been depicted in roundels this month: the feast days of St Boniface, St Barnabus, St Eligius, and Sts Peter and Paul, and (in the middle) the Nativity of St John the Baptist. The Zodiac sign for this month is Cancer. 

Add_ms_35313_f004r_labour
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of peasants shearing sheep,
Add MS 35313, f. 4r 

Add_ms_35313_f004r_johnthebaptist
Detail of a roundel portraying the Nativity of St John the Baptist,
Add MS 35313, f. 4r 

- James Freeman

01 May 2015

A Calendar Page for May 2015

Add comment Comments (0)

To find out more about the London Rothschild Hours, take a look at our post A Calendar Page for January 2015

Add_ms_35313_f003v
Calendar page for May, with decorative border comprising a Zodiac sign, architectural column and roundels, and bas-de-page scene, from the London Rothschild Hours, Southern Netherlands (?Ghent), c. 1500,
Add MS 35313, f. 3v 

The Zodiac sign for May is Gemini, portrayed here unusually as conjoined twins (cephalothoracopagus twins, to be precise, who are joined at the thorax and share a single head). May is the month in which the Finding of the Holy Cross is celebrated. The event is depicted in one of the roundels, with the Pope and other figures standing as witnesses. In the scene below, the gentlewoman and her lapdog make a reappearance, boating on a river. She is playing music on a lute, while one of her companions accompanies her on an instrument resembling a recorder. In the background, two gentlemen are out hunting: they are riding on horseback, one of them bearing a hawk on his wrist. A servant follows, carrying a lance and also a hunting bird. 

Add_ms_35313_f003v_gemini
Detail of the Zodiac sign for Gemini, portrayed as conjoined twins,
Add MS 35313, f. 3v 

Add_ms_35313_f003v_holycross
Detail of a roundel depicting the Finding of the Holy Cross,
Add MS 35313, f. 3v 

Add_ms_35313_f003v_labour
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of boating and hunting,
Add MS 35313, f. 3v

- James Freeman

02 April 2015

A Calendar Page for April 2015

Add comment Comments (0)

To find out more about the London Rothschild Hours, take a look at our post A Calendar Page for January 2015

Add_ms_35313_f003r
Calendar page for April, with decorative border comprising a Zodiac sign, architectural column and roundels, and bas-de-page scene, from the London Rothschild Hours, Southern Netherlands (?Ghent), c. 1500,
Add MS 35313, f. 3r 

A pastoral scene greets us on the calendar page for April, with budding leaves on the trees heralding the onset of spring. Sheep and their lambs, a goat and two oxen are being shepherded out from half-timbered barns, to graze in the fields beyond. A cockerel, hens and their hatchlings scrabble about in farmyard, while in the background a woman stands churning milk for butter. The roundels depict the two main feast days for the month – for St George (on horseback, vanquishing a dragon with his lance) and for St Mark (seated at his desk and accompanied by his emblem, a winged lion). Taurus the Bull – the Zodiac sign for April – is standing at the head of page. 

Add_ms_35313_f003r_labour
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of animals being let out to graze,
Add MS 35313, f. 3r 

Add_ms_35313_f003r_george
Detail of a roundel depicting St George and the dragon,
Add MS 35313, f. 3r

- James Freeman

01 March 2015

A Calendar Page for March 2015

Add comment Comments (1)

To find out more about the London Rothschild Hours, take a look at our post A Calendar Page for January 2015

Add_ms_35313_f002v
Calendar page for March, with decorative border comprising a Zodiac sign, architectural column and suspended roundel, and bas-de-page scene, from the London Rothschild Hours, Southern Netherlands (?Ghent), c. 1500,
Add MS 35313, f. 2v 

In this month’s border decoration, a roundel for the Feast of the Annunciation is suspended from a perpendicular gothic column. This elaborate architectural design itself encloses a scene showing the Mass of St Gregory, who died on 12th March 604. According to Paul the Deacon’s 8th-century biography of Gregory, the Man of Sorrows appeared as Gregory celebrated mass as Pope, in response to his prayers to convince someone of the doctrine of transubstantiation – that is, Christ’s physical presence in the consecrated host. 

At the top of the page, there is the Zodiac sign for March: Aries the Ram. At the bottom, there is another scene of agricultural industriousness. Three peasants labour in a fenced-off garden: the men digging and planting fruit trees, the woman pulling up weeds. They are overseen by a gentlewoman, who is holding a small lapdog in her arms, and her female attendant. A large and imposing building, presumably the woman’s residence, stands in the background. 

Add_ms_35313_f002v_labour
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of peasants labouring in a garden,
Add MS 35313, f. 2v 

Add_ms_35313_f002v_gregory
Detail of an architectural column enclosing the scene of the Mass of St Gregory,
Add MS 35313, f. 2v 

- James Freeman

01 February 2015

A Calendar Page for February 2015

Add comment Comments (0)

To find out more about the London Rothschild Hours, take a look at our post A Calendar Page for January 2015

Add_ms_35313_f002r
Calendar page for February, with decorative border comprising a Zodiac sign, four roundels and bas-de-page scene, from the London Rothschild Hours, Southern Netherlands (?Ghent), c. 1500,
Add MS 35313, f. 2r 

For this month, the bas-de-page scene is an appropriately wintry and barren one. In the foreground, two ruddy-faced labourers prune back vines, while another carries off the trimmings for firewood in a bundle on his back (note how he is wearing medieval mittens against the cold!). A female figure is following in his footsteps in the background, and to the right a team of oxen draw a plough through a frosty field. The Zodiac sign for this month is Pisces, shown at the top of the page. The border contains four roundels for the key religious festivals of the month, which are picked out in red in the calendar.  These are the feast days of the Purification of the Virgin Mary (also known as the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, or Candlemas), Saints Vedastus and Amandus (two bishops from northern France/Belgium, close to where the manuscript originated), the Chair of St Peter, and St Matthias. 

Add_ms_35313_f002r_labour
Detail of a bas-de-page scene of men pruning vines and gathering firewood,
Add MS 35313, f. 2r 

Add_ms_35313_f002r_purification
Detail of a roundel illustrating the Purification of the Virgin Mary,
Add MS 35313, f. 2r 

- James Freeman

19 January 2015

Surviving the Winter: Medieval-Style

Add comment Comments (0)

There is a Middle English aphorism that says, ‘Winter all eats / That summer begets’. Living alongside 24-hour supermarkets, it is easy to forget the once vital preoccupation with preserving the autumn harvest and stocking our larders to the brim. As we approach the sign of Aquarius, long nights and short days will persist until mid-March when the sun enters Aries, and we spare a thought for our medieval forebears in the most barren and cold of seasons. Depictions of wintry concerns and activities from the medieval era are frequently featured in the calendars which preface many Books of Hours and Psalters (for a discussion of calendars, see the post from January 2011).

Add_ms_18851_f006r - detail
Detail from an October calendar showing the fattening of hogs, from the Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castile, Southern Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1497,  
Add MS 18851, f. 6r

Kings ms 9 f_3v
A February calendar with a bas-de-page scene of men chopping wood and a woman gathering it, from a Book of Hours, Southern Netherlands (Bruges), c. 1500,
King’s MS 9, f. 3v

Surviving a medieval winter was the result of forethought and hard labour. The calendar page for October shows two men knocking acorns from trees to fatten their hogs in readiness for winter, while the calendar page for February depicts two men with curved knives cutting wood to be gathered and bundled, in this case, by a woman.

Royal 2 b ii f_1v
Detail from a February calendar of a man drying his shoe by the fire, from a Psalter, France (Paris), c. 1250,
Royal MS 2 B II, f. 1v

Arundel ms 157 f_13v
A February calendar with roundels showing of a man warming his feet by the fire (top) and the sign of Pisces (below), from a Psalter, England (Oxford), c. 1200–c. 1225,
Arundel MS 157, f. 13v

Little agrarian activity could take place in winter and miniatures of Labours of the Month for December, January and February show mostly indoor scenes. The practical discomforts of winter are illustrated in the February calendars of two contemporary Psalters, one made in Oxford and the other in Paris, both showing a man attempting to dry his shoe or warm his feet over the fire.

Add_ms_18852_f001v - detail
Detail from a January calendar of warming by the fire and feasting, from a Book of Hours (the ‘Hours of Joanna I of Castile’), Southern Netherlands (Bruges), 1486–1506,
Add MS 18852, f. 1v

Kings ms 9 f_2v
A January calendar with a bas-de-page scene of feasting by an open fire, from
King’s MS 9, f. 2v

The standard activity featured in the January calendar is one of feasting and warming oneself by the fire. These miniatures were produced in Bruges around 1500, and both show men sitting to a rich feast attended by a woman. The dominant ‘humour’ of the winter season was thought to be phlegm, and one contemporary text, the Secretum Secretorum, recommended combatting its injurious effects through a modification of the diet. It prescribes figs, grapes, ‘fine red wine’ and ‘hot meats’ such as mutton or pigeon, while warning that the somewhat odd assortment of laxatives, bloodletting and lovemaking are to be avoided. Overindulgence in general is very bad, according to our source, but better to do so in the winter season when the body’s natural heat is drawn inwards, resulting in good digestion. This is good to know in the season which includes Christmas.

Add_ms_18852_f002r - detail
Detail of activities on a frozen river, from
Add MS 18852, f. 2r

Egerton ms 1146 f_12v
Detail from a November calendar of a boar being snared, from a Book of Hours, Germany (?Worms), c. 1475–c. 1485, from
Egerton MS 1146, f. 12v

Snow sports of many varieties are another feature of January calendars, such as the skating, sledging and ball games taking place on the frozen river above. An activity which combined sport and the acquisition of food was boar-hunting, the principal quarry of noblemen in the winter. Above, a boar is chased through a gallows-like-structure in a snowy landscape, becoming ensnared in the noose and speared by a knight. Another good ‘hot meat’ to combat the phlegm.

- Holly James-Maddocks

01 January 2015

A Calendar Page for January 2015

Add comment Comments (2)

Regular readers will know that one of our blog traditions is to highlight a calendar from a particular medieval manuscript throughout the course of the year.  Past manuscripts have included the Isabella Breviary, the Hours of Joanna the Mad, the Golf Book, and the Huth Hours.  In 2015 we are pleased to present a manuscript that has featured on our blog before, the London Rothschild Hours.  Confusingly, this manuscript is often also called the Hours of Joanna the Mad (or the Hours of Joanna I of Castile), as it has been suggested that the manuscript belonged to that famous lady.

Add_ms_35313_ff010v-011r
Miniature of John the Evangelist on Patmos with his symbol the eagle, being tormented by a demon and visions above, at the beginning of his suffrage, from the London Rothschild Hours (The Hours of Joanna I of Castile), Netherlands (Ghent?), c. 1500, Add MS 35313, f. 10v-11r

Evidence that the book was Joanna’s is tantalising, but inconclusive.  The repeated presence of Joanna’s name saint, John the Evangelist, is a potential clue, and the presence of a number of Spanish saints in the calendar suggests that it was probably produced for a member of the Spanish aristocracy.

Add_ms_35313_f033v
Miniature of the Pentecost, with the Virgin Mary at the centre seated at a lectern, Add MS 35313, f. 33v

In any case, this manuscript is certainly a lavish production, and the prominent places given to women and books in the miniatures indicate that it was prepared for a noble lady who was highly literate.  Every miniature in the manuscript – and there are many – is surrounded by a detailed and extravagant border, often containing animals, flowers, or jewels. 

Add_ms_35313_f223v
Miniature of St George and the dragon, surrounded by a jewelled border, Add MS 35313, f. 223v

The structure of the calendar echoes the beauty of the rest of the manuscript.  Each folio contains a single month, beginning with a small painting of the sign of the zodiac at the top.  Below this is the listing of the saints’ days for the month, and, unusually, every slot is filled with an observance or feast.  Even more unusual are the roundels on the outer edge of the folio that contain illustrations of the most important saints’ days, those days marked in red on the calendar (which is where we get our contemporary phrase ‘red letter days’).  At the bottom of each calendar page is a miniature of the labour for that month, painted by one of the most accomplished Flemish illuminators of the day.

Add_ms_35313_f001v
Calendar page for January, Add MS 35313, f. 1v

Our calendar for January begins with a particularly charming scene.  The traditional labour for this wintery month is to feast before a fire, and at the bottom of the folio we can see a couple preparing to do just that in their bedchamber, watched by an attentive cat.  Outside, a bundled man appears to be making his own way home.   

Add_ms_35313_f001v_labour
Detail of a bas-de-page miniature of a couple feasting indoors, and a man standing outside, from a calendar page for January, Add MS 35313, f. 1v

Four saints’ days have been given red letter status in this manuscript, and one notable one is the conversion of St Paul (see below); the constraints of monochrome still allow for some sense of drama for the scene on the road to Damascus.

Add_ms_35313_f001v_paul
Detail of a roundel miniature of St Paul on the Road to Damascus, from a calendar page for January, Add MS 35313, f. 1v

- Sarah J Biggs