THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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134 posts categorized "Decoration"

25 October 2014

Lindisfarne Gospels in our Treasures Gallery

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The Lindisfarne Gospels, one of the greatest treasures in the British Library’s collections, is now back on display in The Sir John Ritblat Gallery. This Latin Gospel-book is thought to be the work of one remarkably gifted scribe and artist, who created it around 700 on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Northumbria. Its importance lies not only in the beauty of its carpet-pages and its miniatures of the four Evangelists, but also in the tenth-century gloss of its text that is the earliest example of the Gospels in the English language.

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Colophon added by Aldred, the translator of the Old English gloss, in the Lindisfarne Gospels, England, c. 700,
Cotton MS Nero D IV, f. 259r 

According to the colophon added by this translator, Aldred (fl. c. 970), who was provost of the community at Chester-le-Street near Durham, the artist-scribe was a monk called Eadfrith, who was Bishop of Lindisfarne from 698 to 721. The inscription records that Eadfrith ‘wrote this book for God and St Cuthbert and also for all the Saints whose relics are on the island’. It also describes the binding made by Billfrith the anchorite, which included a cover adorned with gold, silver and precious gems.

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A Canon table
from Cotton Nero D IV, f. 12v

On display for the next three months are two pages from the canon tables that preface the Lindisfarne Gospels (ff. 12v-13r). These provide readers with a concordance to the Four Gospels, allowing them to locate episodes described by more than one Evangelist. A mistake has been made in Canon 2 (shown), where the name titles at the heads of the three columns have been confused with those of Canon 3 on the facing page. The headings which read ‘Luke’ and ‘John’ have been corrected by a near-contemporary hand to read ‘Mark’ and ‘Luke’. Interlace birds fill the columns and the arch, while a ribbon knotwork design is used for the bases and capitals.

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Detail of masons building the canon table in the Echternach Gospels, from the monastery of St Willibrord, Echternach (now Luxembourg), 11th century,
Harley MS 2821, f. 9r

Visitors to the Gallery will be able to compare the canon tables in the Lindisfarne Gospels with those in the Echternach Gospels, made in the monastery of St Willibrord (in modern day Luxembourg) in the eleventh century. The two tables on display (ff. 8v-9r) show elaborate ornamental pillars upon which masons are still working with hammers and chisels.

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Detail of a remarkably naturalistic bird and fish from the ‘Golden Canon Tables’, Eastern Mediterranean, 6th or 7th century,
Additional MS 5111, f. 11r

In another case nearby there is also the much earlier ‘Golden Canon Tables’ from the Eastern Mediterranean. Written over gold leaf, these tables are set within elaborately adorned architectural frames, including some finely executed birds and fish. These pages were later trimmed to fit a smaller twelfth-century manuscript of the Gospels, causing the loss of some of these details.

The Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library is open seven days a week, and is free to visit. If you would like to see the Lindisfarne Gospels, the Echternach Gospels or the Golden Canon Tables in their entirety, please see the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts site. 

- Holly James-Maddocks

23 October 2014

How To Be A Hedgehog

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Longstanding readers of our Medieval Manuscripts Blog may know that we have a penchant for hedgehogs. In 2012, we published a post entitled The Distinguished Pedigree of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, based on the accounts of their behaviour in medieval bestiaries. In 2014, we brought you a hedgehog beauty contest, no less, featuring images of five of our favourites. And most recently we focused on the heraldic hedgehog in the 13th-century Dering Roll.

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Hedgehogs rolling on the ground to collect grapes for their young, as illustrated in the Rochester Bestiary (England, c. 1230): London, British Library, Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 45r. Hedgehogs were said to creep into vineyards when the grapes were ripe, to climb the vines and shake the fruit down to the ground. Then, rather than eating this bounty on the spot, they would turn onto their backs and roll around, impaling the grapes with their sharp quills. They could then trundle off back to their burrows, carrying the grapes on their spines, as a meal for their young. The bestiary writers allegorized this as a warning of the clever stratagems of the devil in stealing man's spiritual fruits.

We've now discovered this fantastic animation, based on the drawings of hedgehogs in one of the British Library's medieval bestiaries (Royal MS 12 F XIII, f. 45r). De Herinacio: On the Hedgehog was made by the amazing Obrazki nunu and Discarding Images. We hope that you love it as much as we do! Maybe it will inspire more people to explore and reinvent our wonderful collections.

De Herinacio. On the Hedgehog from obrazki nunu on Vimeo.

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21 October 2014

Illuminated Manuscripts Conference - More Places Available

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We are delighted to announce that – due to exceptional demand for places – the forthcoming AMARC conference has been moved to a larger venue in the Conference Centre at the British Library. 

There are now more places available to attend this exciting conference on fourteenth-century illuminated manuscripts in the British Library collections – so don’t delay in reserving your spot! There are further details below of the speakers’ papers, with some images of the manuscripts they will be discussing. 

However, the post-conference reception remains fully booked. 

The conference is being held in honour of Lucy Freeman Sandler, whose book Illuminators and Patrons in Fourteenth-Century England: The Psalter Hours of Humphrey de Bohun and the Manuscripts of the Bohun Family will be published shortly. 

The Association for Manuscripts and Archives in Research Collections (AMARC) is sponsoring the conference, which will be held on Monday, 1st December, 2014. 

The conference will begin at 10:45. Papers will be 30 minutes with 15 minutes for questions after each. The sessions will conclude at 5:15. Lunch will be provided. 

The registration fees are £20; £15 for AMARC members and £10 for students. To register, send a cheque made out to AMARC to James Freeman, Research & Imaging Assistant, Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Manuscripts, The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB. Foreign delegates may pay on the day, but should send a notice of their intention to attend to james.freeman@bl.uk

The speakers and their topics are as follows: 

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Detail of a miniature in two registers, showing Jonah being thrown into the sea (above) and Jonah being saved from the whale's mouth (below), from the St Omer Psalter, England (Norfolk), c. 1330-c. 1440, Yates Thompson MS 14, f. 70v
 

- Paul Binski, Lombardy and Norfolk: This paper re-examines the question, first seriously raised by Otto Pächt, of Italian influence in English art before 1350 and what is known about Italian art actually in England at that date. 

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Detail of a marginal hunting scene, with the arms of Ely and Bury St Edmunds, from the Howard Psalter, England (East Anglia), c. 1308-c. 1340, Arundel MS 83 I, f. 14r
 

- Alixe Bovey, Bound to be Together: Revisiting the Howard and De Lisle Psalters (Arundel MS 83 I & II): This paper explores the connections between the celebrated De Lisle Psalter, a fragmentary masterpiece of English illumination, and the somewhat lesser known Howard Psalter. Bound together by William Howard at the turn of the 17th century, both manuscripts were made in England in the 1310s, and in some respects have strikingly similar contents. This paper reflects not only on what the relationship between these books reveals about their medieval creation and early modern reception, but also on Lucy Freeman Sandler’s singular contribution to our understanding of them.

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Detail of an historiated initial with two compartments, showing God the Creator (above) and the Virgin and Child with a Benedictine monk (below), from the chronicle and cartulary of Peterborough Abbey, England (Peterborough), c. 1321-1329, Add MS 39758, f. 20r
 

- Julian Luxford, Walter of Whittlesey, Monk and Artist of Peterborough: Julian will examine British Library Additional MSS 39758 and 47170, which were made in the first half of the fourteenth century by Walter of Whittlesey, a monk of Peterborough Abbey, focusing on what these manuscripts reveal of Whittlesey’s historical interests and his status as a copyist and illuminator of manuscripts. 

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Detail of a three-part miniature showing an angel giving St John the reed (left), worshippers at the altar (centre), and  two men demolishing the temple (right), from a fragmentary Apocalypse, England (?London), 1325-1330, Add MS 38842, f. 2r

- Nigel Morgan, A fragmentary Apocalypse by one of the Milemete artists - Additional 38842: This fragmentary Anglo-Norman prose Apocalypse has been little discussed in the literature on English illustrated fourteenth-century Apocalypses. This paper will consider both its figure style and iconography.

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Detail of a miniature showing Michal saving David from Saul, from the Queen Mary Psalter, England (London/Westminster or ?East Anglia), c. 1310-c. 1320, Royal MS 2 B VII, f. 52r

- Kathryn Smith, Crafting the Old Testament in the Queen Mary Psalter: This paper considers aspects of the crafting of the Old Testament prefatory cycle in the Queen Mary Psalter (Royal MS 2 B VII), examining analogues of and possible sources for some of the Queen Mary Master's compositions, evidence for the artist's working methods, and the history and image of the Jews as constructed in pictures and text. 

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Detail of an historiated initial showing Jezebel talking to Ahab in bed, with a lewd woman in the margin, from the Bohun Psalter, England (?London), 2nd half of the 14th century, Egerton MS 3277, f. 110v

 - Lucy Freeman Sandler: Embedded Marginalia in Egerton 3277: Lucy will focus on the meanings that emerge when the marginalia of Egerton 3277 are considered as integral components of page design. Specifically, she will discuss the marginalia of Egerton 3277 that are physically ‘embedded’ in the area immediately adjacent to the frames of initial letters, figural subjects linked tangibly with the figural subjects within the initials, which themselves are physical manifestations of textual meaning. The wealth of subtle and multilayered meanings made available to the reader/viewer by the medieval illuminator/designer is suggested by the illustration (above) in the initial of one of the prayers of the Litany showing Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, telling him to arise to take Naboth’s possessions (III Kings 21:15 in the Vulgate) and Jezebel’s marginal counterpart, the marginal woman raising her skirt in a lewd gesture.

 

- James Freeman

16 October 2014

Dedicated to You

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What do you get the person who has everything?  A manuscript book of poetry written in his or her honour, naturally!  

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Original binding of gold-tooled parchment with the royal coat of arms and initials ‘E R’ (‘Elizabeth Regina’), from a manuscript of complimentary verses to Elizabeth I, England (Eton), 1563,
Royal MS 12 A XXX, front cover 

A lesser known part of the Royal collection is a set of manuscripts of complimentary verses that were presented to royalty and aristocracy during the 16th and 17th centuries.  They are mostly catalogued under the ‘Royal MS 12 A’ range.  Eleven of these, containing verses or epigrams in Greek, have been digitised as part of our ongoing Greek Manuscripts Digitisation Project (a list of these is provided below).  They are now available online, allowing us to take a closer look at these intriguing gifts. 

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Title page with coloured border featuring Tudor roses and coats of arms,
Royal MS 12 A XXX, f. 1r 

The focus of today’s blogpost is upon the earliest dated manuscript of this group: Royal MS 12 A XXX, presented to Elizabeth I when she travelled to Windsor in 1563.  The volume opens with a hand-drawn and coloured title page, the border of which contains Tudor roses and the coats of arms both of Elizabeth and Eton College. 

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Poems in Latin by Giles Fletcher, with an acrostic,
Royal MS 12 A XXX, f. 28v 

The Latin verses were composed by pupils of Eton College.  The most frequent contributor to the volume, with eleven poems, was ‘Fletcher’.  Giles Fletcher (bap. 1546, d. 1611) later served as one of Elizabeth’s diplomats, undertaking a perilous embassy to the court of Tsar Feodor I at Moscow between June 1588 and July/August 1589.  Like several of his fellow-pupils, Fletcher employed elaborate acrostics to encode Elizabeth’s name or encomia into his poems: the first and last letters of each line in the above poem read ‘Vivente te vivimus, te remota moriemur’ (‘We live while you live, we will die when you leave’). 

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Poems in Latin by ‘Frankline’ and ‘Flemmynge’, with acrostics,
Royal MS 12 A XXX, f. 56v 

‘Frankline’ and ‘Flemmynge’ (Samuel Flemming, later prebendary of Southwell) used the same device to bid their monarch ‘Farewell [and] prosper’ (‘Valeto, vivito’ and ‘Vive, Vale’).  ‘Hunt’ went one step further, using his acrostic to declare ‘Vestra secundet Christus Iesus’ (‘May Jesus Christ favour your endeavours’) (ff. 33r-33v). 

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Coat of arms of Eton College, with Latin verse,
Royal MS 12 A XXX, f. 72r

What spurred the composition of such a book?  William Malim (b. 1533, d. 1594), Headmaster of Eton College, prefaced the poems with a dedicatory Greek quatrain.  Perhaps he hoped his and his pupils’ praise would secure the patronage and favour of the new monarch (he may have been involved in producing a similar book – now Royal MS 12 A LXVII – when he became High Master of St Paul’s school ten years later).  The coat of arms of both of Elizabeth and the College were painted in at the end of the volume, and lavishly embellished with silver leaf (now oxidised into a dull grey), with verses on both, providing a reminder of the source of the gift. 

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Opening of a prayer in Latin prose against the plague,
Royal MS 12 A XXX, f. 62r 

Yet there was a serious side to all this flattery.  Elizabeth’s departure from London had been prompted by an outbreak of the plague in the city.  Only five years on the throne, and without either husband or heir, the Queen’s position and the stability of the nation as a whole seemed precarious.  After the political and religious upheavals of previous reigns, such anxieties were sharply felt by Elizabeth’s subjects.  After all the plaudits and praise, the elaborate exercises in Latin composition and inventive word-play, a prayer in Latin prose follows: ‘In order that the contagion of the ravaging plague may be diverted as long as possible from our most fair and noble Queen...’ 

- James Freeman

06 October 2014

Waiting List: AMARC Conference on English Fourteenth-Century Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library

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We are pleased to report that there has been an enthusiastic response to the announcement of the AMARC conference to celebrate the launch of Lucy Freeman Sandler’s book Illuminators and Patrons in Fourteenth-Century England: The Psalter Hours of Humphrey de Bohun and the Manuscripts of the Bohun Family.

As a result, all places are now filled, but we are starting a waiting list. 

If you would like to be added to the waiting list, please contact Dr James Freeman, at james.freeman@bl.uk

English Fourteenth-Century Illuminated Manuscripts in the British Library

Monday, 1 December 2014

British Library Conference Centre

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British Library, Egerton MS 3277, f. 46v (detail)

Speakers: Paul Binski, Alixe Bovey, Julian Luxford, Nigel Morgan, Kathryn Smith, and Lucy Freeman Sandler

04 October 2014

Magna Carta Tickets On Sale

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Tickets for our major 2015 exhibition, Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy, are now on sale. The exhibition runs from 13 March until 1 September 2015, and promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime show which explores the history and resonance of this globally-recognised document.

A standard adult ticket costs £13.50 (with gift aid); entry for under 18s and Friends or Patrons of the British Library is free, and concessions are available for other visitors. Full ticketing details can be found on the British Library's dedicated Magna Carta webpage.

Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy is sponsored by Linklaters, and will feature the British Library's two copies of King John's 1215 Magna Carta, together with other items from our collections and generous loans from other institutions and private individuals, all of which will help to trace the journey of Magna Carta from its medieval origins to its modern significance. Among the exhibits will be a copy of the American Declaration of Independence, in the hand of Thomas Jefferson (on loan from the New York Public Library), and the copy of the US Bill of Rights sent to Delaware (loaned from the US National Archives). You can read more about these documents in an earlier blogpost.

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King John riding on horseback, from a 14th-century legal collection (London, British Library, MS Cotton Claudius D II, f. 116r).

We are extremely grateful to Linklaters for their financial support of our exhibition, and to White & Case for sponsoring the loan of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights from the USA.

More Magna Carta news will be posted on this blog in the next few days. Don't forget to follow our Twitter account (@BLMedieval) for news on Magna Carta: 2015 promises to be a very exciting year!

03 October 2014

Apocalypse Then: Further Medieval Visions from Revelation

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Our recent blogpost, Visions of the Apocalypse, featured a selection of images from five of our favourite Apocalypse manuscripts. These works are filled with imaginative depictions of St John’s visions in the Book of Revelation, and it is interesting to compare how different artists illustrated the same text.

One of the most evocative passages in Revelation is at the beginning of chapter 12:

‘And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars … And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.’ 

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Detail of the woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, from the Queen Mary Apocalypse, S.E. England or East Anglia, 1st quarter of the 14th century, Royal MS 19 B XV, f. 20v

Medieval illuminators applied their talent and imaginations on this text, and the results are wonderfully varied. In the above image from the Queen Mary Apocalypse, the woman is svelte and elegant, posing nonchalantly in her rather ‘bling’ crown, with the moon at her feet. There is no beast in sight yet, and St John and the winds are watching her in admiration. On the following page (f. 21r), featured in our last blogpost, the horrific seven-headed beast occupies the whole page and the woman is shown in an inset picture, giving up her new-born child to an angel.

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The Woman and the Beast, from the Silos Apocalypse, Spain, 1091-1109,
Add MS 11695, ff. 147v-148r

This next image from the 11th-century Spanish manuscript, the Silos Apocalypse, is part of a brilliantly coloured tapestry, featuring a rather whimsical monster who looks almost friendly: all seven heads appear to be smiling. In the upper part of the image is a woman holding a magnificent floral shield, her head surrounded by daisy-like stars, while she gestures towards the beast.

The lower half of the page shows water flowing out of one of the beast’s mouths towards the  brightly-clothed woman, who now has wings. The water is being swallowed up by the earth, as described in the following verses from Revelation, 12:13-16:

‘And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness …And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood. And the earth helped the woman, and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed up the flood which the dragon cast out of his mouth.’

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Detail of the woman and the beast spewing water into the earth, from the Welles Apocalypse, England, c. 1310,
Royal MS 15 D II, f. 156r

In this image from the Welles Apocalypse, produced in England between 1300 and 1325, the stars are part of the patterned background and the beast has only one head, with water spewing out of it into what appears to be a hollow tree trunk. The woman resembles Mary with a blue robe and halo.

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Detail of the woman and the beast spewing water into the earth, from the Yates Thompson Apocalypse, Paris, c. 1370-c. 1390,
Yates Thompson MS 10, f. 20v

A manuscript made late in the 14th century in Paris, Yates Thompson 10, also has a woman raising her hands in terror. The dragon has only one head once again, but is more lifelike than the one in the Welles Apocalypse, and so is the landscape, though the sky is golden.

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Detail of the woman clothed with the sun and the  seven-headed beast spewing water into the earth, from the Abingdon Apocalypse, England (?London), 3rd quarter of the 13th century,
Add MS 42555, f. 36v

The Abingdon Apocalypse, from the 13th century, shows a woman flying away from the griffon-like beast with seven heads, one of which spews water into a tunnel in the earth. Beneath her, wolves and lions are looking on. A golden screen against a blue sky represents her cloak of the sun and she is holding a book-like object.

These are not the only beasts, in fact Apocalypse manuscripts are full of an awesome array of imaginative creatures that must have struck terror into the hearts of anyone brave enough to open these books.

Here is a selection of Apocalyptic beasts, but we must include a disclaimer: this material could give you serious nightmares.

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Detail of the second beast of the Apocalypse on an altar and the third beast watching saints being killed (left),
Add MS 42555, f. 43v

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Detail of John looking at the three beasts of the Apocalypse with frogs coming out of their mouths,
Add MS 42555, f. 60v

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Detail of men battling with a dragon,
Royal MS 19 B XV, f. 22v

A few brave knights are prepared to take on this ferocious creature, while the woman in clothed with the sun flies away.

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Detail of John standing before the false prophet, the dragon, and the beast, with frogs emerging from their mouths representing their unclean spirits,
Royal MS 15 D II, f. 174v

These two beasts and the false prophet have frogs in their mouths, according to the text, but they look more like fish, or maybe large tadpoles.

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The adoration of the Beast with an inscription: 'ubi reges terre bestia[m] et draconem adorant' (Revelation 13:1-10),
Add MS 11695, ff. 151v-152r

And finally, two of the most terrifying beasts of all - and they are being worshipped!

- Chantry Westwell

01 October 2014

A Calendar Page for October 2014

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For more information about the Huth Hours, please see our post A Calendar Page for January 2014.

While the summer growing season may be over, the agricultural labours are by no means at and end, as these calendar pages for the month of October display.  On the opening folio is a roundel miniature of a man scattering grain in a plowed field.  Behind him are some turreted buildings and a bridge, while above, some hopeful birds are circling.   On the facing folio is a small painting of an ominous-looking scorpion, for the zodiac sign Scorpio.  Below, a tired man is heading home from his labours in the field, carrying a bag on his shoulders.  His dog is bounding before him, and swans can be seen swimming in the river beside.

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Calendar page for October, with a roundel miniature of a man sowing grain, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 10v

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Calendar page for October, with a roundel miniature of a man heading home after his work is done, with the zodiac sign Scorpio, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 11r

- Sarah J Biggs