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79 posts categorized "Calendars"

01 February 2016

A Calendar Post for February 2016

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For more information about the Bedford Hours, please see our post for January 2016; for more on medieval calendars in general, our original calendar post is an excellent guide.

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Calendar page for February from the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410-1430, Add MS 18850, f. 2r

The calendar pages for February are just as lavishly decorated as those for January, filled with coloured initials and gold foliage.  At the bottom of the first folio is a miniature of another pleasant winter labour, that of warming oneself before a fire.  The gentleman in this scene has just removed one of his boots and is extending his foot towards a roaring fire, presumably after coming in from the cold.

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Detail of the miniatures for warming oneself and the zodiac sign Pisces, from the calendar page for February, Add MS 18850, f. 2r

Alongside is a miniature of two fish connected by a single line, hovering above an ocean and below a star-studded sky – this for the zodiac sign, Pisces.

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Detail of a marginal roundel with Februa and flowers, from the calendar page for February, Add MS 18850, f. 2r

Above in a roundel is an elegantly-dressed lady in a red dress trimmed with ermine; she is holding a bunch of flowers close to her face.  This unusual scene is explained by the rubrics at the bottom of the folio, which describe how this month is named after a woman called ‘Februa’, who ‘according to the poets’ was the mother of Mars, the god of war.  Rather unusually, she is said to have conceived her son by ‘kissing and adoring a flower’.

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Calendar page for February, Add MS 18850, f. 2v

The remaining saints’ days are laid out in the following folio, with a bit of space left blank because of the shortness of the month.  The roundels once again illustrate the bottom verses, which describe a procession around the city and the annual February Festival of Fools.

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Detail of a marginal roundels of a city procession and the Festival of Fools, from the calendar page for February, Add MS 18850, f. 2v

-  Sarah J Biggs

01 January 2016

A Calendar Page for January 2016

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Many thanks to all of you who voted to help us choose our 2016 calendar; we are pleased to present you with the winner – the Bedford Hours.   The Bedford Hours is a particularly apt choice for the beginning of the year, as it was originally intended as a Christmas gift; on 24 December 1430, the manuscript now known as Add MS 18850 was presented to the newly-crowned king of England, the 8-year-old Henry VI, by his aunt, Anne of Burgundy, the duchess of Bedford. 

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John of Lancaster, duke of Bedford, before St George, France (Paris), c. 1410-1430, Add MS 18850, f. 256v

It was indeed a magnificent gift for the young king, containing 38 large miniatures and more than 1,200 smaller paintings, produced by the best Parisian workshops of the day.   We have highlighted this glorious manuscript before on our blog; more information on the Bedford Hours can be found in our posts A Royal Gift for Christmas and What a King Should Know.

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Calendar page for January, from the Bedford Hours, Add MS 18850, f. 1r

The calendar in the Bedford Hours is suitably sumptuous.  The saints’ days for each month stretch across two pages, which are surrounded by lush foliage and ornately decorated letters.  At the beginning of each month are two miniatures that indicate the labour of that month, as well as the relevant sign of the zodiac.  But the Bedford calendar doesn’t stop there; also included on each folio are one or two medallions, which contain very unusual paintings for a calendar.  At the bottom of each folio are verses, written in blue and gold, which explain the scenes above.

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Detail of the miniatures for feasting and the zodiac sign Aquarius, from the calendar page for January, Add MS 18850, f. 1r

On the bottom of f. 1r we can see two adjacent miniatures.  On the left is the standard ‘labour’ for January, that of feasting – although in this case the gentleman is able to utilise his triple face for maximum eating and drinking.  Next to this is a nude figure of a man pouring out water, corresponding to the zodiac sign for Aquarius.

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Detail of a marginal roundel  with January opening the door to the year, from the calendar page for January, Add MS 18850, f. 1r

To understand the roundel on the middle right we must turn to the rubrics (and here I am indebted to our resident expert in medieval French, Chantry Westwell).  The two lines at the bottom of the folio explain how January ‘holds the key to daylight’, opening the door to the four seasons.  This is, of course, exactly what we can see happening above. 

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Calendar page for January, Add MS 18850, f. 1v

The following folio continues the saints’ days for the month, and include two additional roundels.  These illustrate how we are to greet the first day of the year, giving our hands to one another ‘as a sign of love’. 

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Detail of a roundel with figures greeting the new year, Add MS 18850, f. 1v

Happy New Year!

-  Sarah J Biggs 

31 December 2015

Party Like It's AD 999 (or 980)

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This week, many people are planning parties. In the late 10th century, some reforming monks took their cues from the Romans when it came to partying. In a dedicatory letter to his bishop, Ælfheah, the writer and poet Wulfstan the Cantor remembered the party that the monks of the Old Minster, Winchester, had held after the rededication of their church on 20 October 980. The sole copy of this letter is preserved in a nearly contemporary manuscript, which has just been uploaded to Digitised Manuscripts. Translated from the original Latin, the account of the party reads:

‘There were many other bishops… nobles and ealdormen, as well as the great majority of the English royal thegns… [T]hey rejoice in the sumptuous delights which the bishop [Æthelwold of Winchester] decided to lay on for everyone. Course is joined to course, every sort of food abounds: no one is sad, all are joyful. There is no hunger here, where food is in all abundance, and the table stands piled high with a variety of victuals. Circulating wine-stewards delve into the cellars and urge the revellers to begin drinking. They set up great drinking bowls and spice the wine, pouring out innumerable cups of the beverage. And abundant are the cups when the thirsty boor has drained the frothing bowl, honey-sweet in its stream! – in the end he soaks himself from the full drinking bowl itself, jamming it against his bristly chin.’ [Wulfstan of Winchester, Narratio metrica de Sancto Swithuno, in The Cult of St Swithun, trans. and ed. by Michael Lapidge (Oxford, 2003), pp. 378-79.]

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Passage describing the festivities after the rededication of the Old Minster, from a dossier of materials pertaining to the cult of St Swithun, England (Winchester), c. 1000, Royal MS 15 C VII, f. 52 v

Admittedly, Wulfstan’s account is not a straightforward description of the event: rather, he modelled the section about the wine stewards on the Latin poet Virgil’s account of Dido’s feast in the Æneid (Virgil, Æneid, i.723-47). Wulfstan may have been quoting Virgil to show off his learning. Nevertheless, it is interesting that Wulfstan thought that the party Virgil described was a suitable point of reference to describe a celebration at a reformed monastery led by his beloved teacher, St Æthelwold, whom Wulfstan was urging Bishop Ælfheah to emulate.

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Miniature of a dedication of a church, from the Benedictional of St Æthelwold, England, c. 963-984, Add. MS 49598, f. 118v

Additionally, there is other evidence for an abundance of alcohol at monasteries refounded by Æthelwold. At Abingdon Abbey, where Æthelwold had been abbot between about 954 and 963, 12th- and 13th-century chroniclers claimed Æthelwold had permitted a generous daily allowance of beer, known as Æthelwold’s bowl, which was supplemented with mead on feast days. Both manuscripts of the Abingdon Chronicle are held at the British Library as Cotton MS Claudius C IX and Cotton MS Claudius B VI.

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Detail of a steward pouring drinks and drinkers, from a calendar, England, second quarter of the 10th century, Cotton MS Tiberius B V, f. 4v

Wishing you equally memorable festivities wherever you are!

 Alison Hudson, Project Curator, Anglo-Saxon Manuscripts

15 December 2015

Help Us Choose our 2016 Calendar

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It has long been a tradition on our blog, hailing back to the distant days of 2011, to highlight pages from a medieval calendar throughout the year.  We have been privileged to bring you the Isabella Breviary, the Hours of Joanna of Castile (or if you prefer, the Hours of Joanna the Mad), the Golf Book, the Huth Hours, and most recently, the London Rothschild Hours

For 2016, we’d like to do something a little different – we’d like for you to help us decide which calendar to feature.  We have selected 4 potential manuscripts, all listed below.  Please let us know which one you’d like to see throughout 2016!  You can leave your favourite in the comments below, or tell us on Twitter @BLMedieval.  Without any further ado, here are the contenders:

Add MS 18850:  The Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410 – 1430 (this manuscript was also included in Turn the Pages)

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Calendar page for January from the Bedford Hours, Add MS 18850, f. 1r

Add MS 36684:  The St Omer Hours, France (Saint-Omer or Therouanne), c. 1320 (for more on this fabulous manuscript, see our posts Apes Pulling Shapes and Something for Everyone)

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Calendar page for February from the St Omer Hours, Add MS 36684, f. 2v

Egerton MS 1070: The Hours of René of Anjou, France (Paris), 15th century

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Calendar page for March from The Hours of René of Anjou, Egerton MS 1070, f. 8r

Cotton MS Galba A XVII:  The Athelstan Psalter (or Galba Psalter), northeast France, 1st half of the 9th century (more on this one: King Athelstan’s Books and Athelstan Psalter Online)

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Calendar page from the Athelstan Psalter, Cotton MS Galba A XVII, f. 3r

- Sarah J Biggs

01 December 2015

A Calendar Page for December 2015

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

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Calendar page for December, 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. 7r

Winter has fully descended in this calendar page for December.  Against a snowy landscape, a peasant is kneeling atop a pig that he has just slaughtered, bracing himself for the arduous task ahead.  Beside him crouches a woman, holding out a pan to catch the pig's blood.  Behind them a distant figure is crossing a bridge over a frozen river, while to the left two women are at work in an open-sided building.  The only hint of welcome warmth comes from the fire blazing in the hearth.  

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene of peasants slaughtering a pig and working in a snowy landscape,  Add MS 35313, f. 7r

December, naturally enough, includes a number of major feast days - so many, in fact, that the illuminators of this manuscript have had to be creative in order to include them all.  On the lower right, beneath a depiction of the Nativity of Christ for Christmas, are four roundels containing scenes commemorating St Stephen, St John, the Holy Innocents, and St Thomas a Becket, archbishop of Canterbury (for more on images of St Thomas, see our post Erasing Becket).   

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Detail of a roundels of the Nativity, and the martyrdoms of SS Stephen, John, Thomas and the Holy Innocents,  Add MS 35313, f. 7r

 

01 November 2015

A Calendar Page for November 2015

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

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Calendar page for November, 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. 6v 

In November, the threshing and winnowing is taking place: in the background, a male figure wields a flail, beating wheat to separate the grains from the husks.  Two peasants in the foreground are beating flax to break down the stem fibres, while a woman to the right in the background is using a stick known as a 'swingle' to 'scutch' or dress the flax.  A woman is pouring swill out for the pigs, while doves and pigeons gather in the dovecote and on the thatched roofs of the barns waiting to feed on any loose grains. This month, marked by the Zodiac symbol of the centaur for Sagittarius, saw the celebration of several important festivals in the Christian calendar, each illustrated in the roundels to the left: All Souls’ Day, the Commemoration of Souls in Purgatory, St Martin of Tours (shown mounted on a horse, cleaving his cloak in two and giving half to a beggar), and the deaths of St Clement, Pope and Martyr (shown being thrown into the Black Sea with an anchor tied around his neck, as punishment for converting local pagans), St Catherine (shown being beheaded, her wheel in the background) and St Andrew (shown being crucified on the saltire). 

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene of peasants beating flax, threshing wheat and feeding pigs,
Add MS 35313, f. 6v 

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Detail of a roundel depicting the martyrdom of St Clement,
Add MS 35313, f. 6v 

- James Freeman

01 October 2015

A Calendar Page for October 2015

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

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Calendar page for October, 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. 6r 

A slightly grisly bas-de-page scene greets us this month: an ox is about to meet its end, while two men barter over the sale of another on the other side of the wall. Other peasants are carrying baskets of grapes to a shed in the distance, where we can see them being pressed to make wine. The roundels contain depictions relating to the major religious festivals of October: the feast day of Saints Bavo and Remigius, St Dionysius/Denis (shown holding his own head), St Donatian, St Luke (with a bull, his Evangelist symbol, in the background) and Saints Simon and Jude. As we noted last month, the artist has mistakenly reversed the order of September and October’s Zodiac symbols: Libra (in the form of scales) being shown here at the top of the page instead of Scorpio. 

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene of men bartering over the sale of an ox, an ox being slaughtered, and grapes being pressed from wine,
Add MS 35313, f. 6r 

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Detail of a roundel depicting St Denis,
Add MS 35313, f. 6r 

- James Freeman

01 September 2015

A Calendar Page for September 2015

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

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Calendar page for September, 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. 5v 

A distinctly autumnal feel is creeping into the bas-de-page scene of September’s calendar page. Against a grey backdrop, with trees that are beginning to look a little bare, two peasants are ploughing and resowing a field in preparation for next year. There is a look of concentration on the ploughman’s face as he steers two rather sprightly horses and attempts to cut a straight furrow in the soil. Just above his head is a roundel depicting the Archangel Michael, equipped with sword, shield and crossed spear, vanquishing Satan and his demons. The other roundels on this page show St Giles (accompanied by his emblem, a deer), the Nativity of the Virgin Mary, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and the Martyrdom of St Matthew the Apostle. The artist has mixed up this and October’s Zodiac symbols, erroneously inserting Scorpio here and Libra on the next page. 

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Detail of a bas-de-page scene of peasants ploughing and sowing a field, with a roundel depicting Archangel Michael,
Add MS 35313, f. 5v 

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Detail of a roundel depicting St Giles,
Add MS 35313, f. 5v 

- James Freeman