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240 posts categorized "Featured manuscripts"

13 November 2014

Fire and Brimstone: Another Apocalypse Manuscript Goes Live

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Just in case you’ve been living in a cave on the island of Patmos, here’s a reminder about the forthcoming illuminated manuscripts conference at the British Library! It will be taking place on Monday 1st December, 10.45am-5.15pm. It is being held in honour of Lucy Freeman Sandler, who has published extensively on British Library manuscripts. The speakers are each leading lights in the field of art history and manuscript studies: Nigel Morgan, Kathryn Smith, Julian Luxford, Alixe Bovey and Paul Binski. Lucy Freeman Sandler will also be giving a paper on Egerton MS 3277, the Bohun Psalter. This is an unmissable opportunity to hear them talk about their most recent research.

150 people have registered to attend so far. If you haven’t reserved your place yet, don’t delay! E-mail James Freeman (james.freeman@bl.uk) to bag a seat, and check out our earlier blog post for further details of the programme.

As a taster of what we have to look forward to next month, let’s take a closer look at the manuscript that will be the subject of Nigel Morgan’s paper: Add MS 38842, an English apocalypse fragment, which has recently been published on Digitised Manuscripts

Sadly, only 8 folios are known to survive, but they contain wonderful illuminations on every page, including these of the Woman and the Beast. 

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The Woman clothed with the sun with the moon under her feet and the Beast with seven heads, from an Apocalypse fragment with a commentary in French prose, England, early 14th century,
Add MS 38842, ff. 3v-4r 

A fierce red dragon with seven heads attacks the woman, but she looks back at him defiantly while passing her child up to God in heaven. Below, a host of angels come to her aid with spears, fighting off the beast and his army of club-wielding creatures, which represent vice. They are soon dispatched into a waiting hell-mouth, into which they dive headlong with evil grins. The woman grows wings and escapes from the beast; here she represents the Church, as the French commentary explains, escaping from the evil on earth. 

On either side of the final folio of the British Library fragment is the episode of the angels and the seven vials (Revelation 16). First, the angels, clothed in pure white gowns with golden girdles, receive their vials at the temple door. Although the text states that the vials, containing the wrath of God, are given to the angels by one of the four beasts of the Apocalypse, the image shows an angel giving out the last vial. 

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The seven angels with golden vials,
Add MS 38842, f. 8r 

The commentary in Anglo-Norman French tells us that the angels represent ‘li precheur de la foi’ (the preachers of the faith), ‘ki dampnerunt ceux ki ne la voudrent receuvre’ (who will damn those who do not want to receive it).

On the following page is a scene of high drama: six of the angels pour out God’s wrath on the earth, the sea, the rivers, the sun, the beast’s kingdom and the air. Some people lie sleeping or dead on the left, while in the foreground three figures writhe in terror, at the same time attacking each other violently. 

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The first six angels pour out their vials (right),
Add MS 38842, f. 8v 

This Apocalypse is believed to have been illuminated by the English court artist who worked on the ‘Treatise on Good Government’, given by Walter of Milemete to Edward III (Oxford, Christ Church MS 92). Milemete also presented a copy of the Secretum Secretorum to Edward III as companion volume to his treatise: Add MS 47680, one of the manuscripts displayed in our exhibition, Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination.  

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Three men worshipping the beast out of the earth, with the dragon on a hill;  fire descends from heaven and four men lie dead,
Add MS 38842, f. 5v 

- Chantry Westwell

11 November 2014

The Codex Crippsianus: A Byzantine Manuscript of the Attic Orators

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Of all the manuscripts collected by the schoolmaster and bibliophile Charles Burney (d. 1817), two stand out for their significance for the transmission of classical texts. One is the Townley Homer (Burney MS 86), an important witness to the text of the Iliad and the key source for the exegetical scholia on that text. (You can read more about the Townley Homer in this blog post from last summer.) The other is the Codex Crippsianus (Burney MS 95), recently added to Digitised Manuscripts. It is the most important witness to the text of the minor Attic Orators, containing the speeches of Andocides, Isaeus, Dinarchus, Antiphon and Lycurgus, as well as works by Gorgias, Alcidamas, Lesbonax and a work attributed to Herodes Atticus.

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Zoomorphic initial of a bird, from the Codex Crippsianus, Eastern Mediterranean (Constantinople), 1st half of the 14th century, Burney MS 95, f. 34v

The hand of the manuscript caused some confusion about how best to date it, in the absence of a scribal colophon, and most attempts to date it placed it in the thirteenth or even the twelfth century. In 1960, however, Nigel Wilson noted the similarities between the script and that of chancery script in two early 14th-century manuscripts on Athos, and he suggested that the manuscript had been written by a chancery scribe commissioned to write a book. Certainly, the script differs greatly from a typical contemporary book-hand such as that found in Arundel MS 523, copied by the priest Michael Lulludes in Crete, in 1312-13:

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Detail of the hand of Michael Lulludes, from a copy of the Chronicle of Constantine Manasses, 1312-13, Arundel MS 523, f. 143v

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Detail of the hand of the Codex Crippsianus, Burney MS 95, f. 16v

On the other hand, Burney MS 95 is much closer to the hand of Romanus Chartophylax, in Harley MS 5579, copied in 1320-21. This script is the form known as “notarial” Cypriot script.

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Detail of the hand of Romanus Chartophylax, from the Codex Goblerianus, Cyprus, 1320-21, Harley MS 5579, f. 98r

Finally, in the 1990s, the scribe was identified by Erich Lamberz as Michael Klostomalles, a notary also known as the “Metochitesschreiber”. It is heartening to think that such a famous manuscript can now be associated with a known person, and is also a good reminder of the vast amounts of work remaining to be done on Greek manuscripts.

It remains to say a few words about how the manuscript ended up in Burney’s possession. The manuscript contains an early pressmark identifying it as belonging to the monastery of Vatopedi, Mount Athos, and it may well have been part of the gift of the Emperor John VI Cantacuzenus (r. 1347-54). Like many public figures during the Byzantine age, John planned to retire to a monastery, and prepared for his retirement by having many of his books sent in advance. The manuscript contains annotations in the hand of Prince Alexander Bano Hantzerli, and from him it passed into the possession of Edward Daniel Clarke, who procured it for John Marten Cripps, from whom the manuscript gets its name. There was great excitement when the manuscript went up for auction in 1808, as can be seen from the printed sale notice now preserved as ff. 171r-172v, and Burney acquired it for the not insignificant sum of £372 15s. Now, along with Burney MS 96, a descendant of the Codex Crippsianus, the manuscript and its riches can be viewed by all online.

- Cillian O'Hogan

08 November 2014

The Harley Psalter: Devils in the Details

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 103 (Vulgate numbering): The creations of the Lord: valleys and mountains (left) with springs where beasts and birds are drinking, a man ploughing with oxen, a sea with ships on it and beasts in the water (centre); lions and other beasts among the rocks (right), from the Harley Psalter, S.E. England (Canterbury), 1st half of the 11th century, Harley MS 603, f. 51v

The Harley Psalter is one of three manuscripts copied from the very well-travelled Utrecht Psalter, a Carolingian masterpiece made around 825 at the Benedictine monastery of Hautvilliers near Rheims in Northern France. Now MS 32 at the Universiteitsbibliotheek in Utrecht, the Utrecht Psalter spent at least two hundred years in Canterbury from about 1000 AD, where it was the inspiration for our very own Harley Psalter, Harley MS 603. Dating from the first half of the 11th century, the Harley Psalter has a very similar arrangement and many near-identical images to those of the Utrecht Psalter, though the version of the Psalms is different. In each one of the large pen drawings, the artist has attempted to represent the words of the Psalms in pictorial form - not always an easy task. The images often include four or five episodes from the text of the Psalm that follows, depicted in a vibrant yet intimate style. They are extraordinarily detailed, filled with tiny people and animals and many details, some amusing, and some bizarre.  This is the medieval ‘Where’s Wally?’: the reward for hours of searching is an unexpected delight from time to time.

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 5: The psalmist entering a sanctuary (left), from which a winged demon is fleeing (centre), and above him an angel placing a wreath on a martyr's head; on the right, demons are prodding the wicked in a pit of fire, Harley MS 603, f. 3r

There are, of course, the standard variations on the theme of the righteous and unrighteous, such as holy tabernacles and fiery pits, the psalmist appealing to God and his angels for help against foes and demons.  

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 134
: The Lord unleashing the fury of the wind and rain and his angels with spears slaying kings and their armies, Harley MS 603, f. 69r

God’s vengeance is portrayed repeatedly and with relish, as are the agitated gestures of the figures who suffer the consequences, particularly kings and judges.

So much for the standard fare. Here are a few unusual and interesting details we found to enjoy (apart from a medieval umbrella!). Please look for your own favourites in the online images and share them with us via Twitter: unlike the ‘Where’s Wally?’ books, Digitised Manuscripts allows you to zoom in for added searchability.

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Detail from a miniature illustrating Psalm 7: a female demon with quadruplets (below right), Harley MS 603, f. 4r

Here is a female demon with her brood of quadruplets. She seems to have her hands full!

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 21: The themes include: (1) the lamentation of the psalmist, who is shown holding two vials, and is attacked by bulls, dogs and lions, with a unicorn below (lower right); (2) prophetic images of Christ’s passion including an empty cross and two men dividing a garment in front of a lot machine (centre); and (3) praise to heaven, represented by the tabernacle with the meek eating at a circular table and seven women seated with babies (the seed of Israel), Harley MS 603, f. 12r

As those of you who follow this blog will know, we have a soft spot for unicorns. Here is one that seems to be facing up to two men with scythes. One has to wonder what the outcome of that contest will be. Our money is on the unicorn, naturally.

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Detail of a miniature illustrating Psalm 30: People watching acrobats and a dancing bear
, Harley MS 603, f. 17r

Continuing with the animal theme, this image includes a dancing bear and acrobats, presumably as a condemnation of frivolous pastimes.

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Miniature illustrating Psalm 108: Below Christ in a mandorla with angels, a wicked man is seized by a demon (left) and the psalmist with a locust, standing in oil from an oil-horn (right); the sinner is punished (lower left), his wife and children abandoned and his treasures taken from his chest, Harley MS 603, f. 56r

And here a locust is an onlooker to the punishment of a sinful man. The sinner’s treasure is looted, his wife tears her hair out and his children are abandoned, naked.  

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Added miniature illustrating Psalm 59: The Lord in a mandorla handing a pair of shoes to an angel; the defenders of the city of Edom(?) are facing the attacking soldiers
, Harley MS 603, f. 32v

Finally, did you know that angels wore shoes? No, nor did we, but in the picture the Lord is handing a pair to an angel (illustrating the line, ‘Over Edom will I cast out my shoe’). The style of this image is different: it is one of the drawings added to the Psalter in the 12th century. 

There are 112 of these fascinating and skilful illustrations in the Harley Psalter, an impressive achievement by any standard. The artistic style, originally from Reims, was influential in the development of late Anglo-Saxon book decoration and the coloured line drawings that became especially popular in England at the time. For further examples of this style, check out the Tiberius Psalter (Cotton MS Tiberius C VI), which dates to the third quarter of the 11th century. Two copies of the Psychomachia at the British Library also contain similar decoration: Cotton MS Cleopatra C VIII and Additional MS 24199 (the latter will soon make an appearance on the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts).

- Chantry Westwell

01 November 2014

A Calendar Page for November 2014

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

These two calendar pages for the month of November show a typical labour for this part of the agricultural season – the fattening of pigs for autumn.  On the opening folio, beneath the beginning of the saints’ days for the month, is a roundel of a peasant in the woods.  He is armed with a long stick, and is engaged in knocking acorns from oak trees to feed the pigs that are rooting around near his feet.   On the following folio, we can see a small miniature of a centaur with a bow and arrow, for the zodiac sign Sagittarius.  Beneath him is another peasant, heading home after a day of feeding pigs.  He looks fairly miserable – understandably enough, as he is walking through a heavy rainstorm.  Surrounding this roundel and the continuation of the saints’ days is a frame made up of golden columns, circled by banners with the initials ‘MY’ and ‘YM’.  These initials might be clues to the original owner of the manuscript, whose identity/identities are still unknown.  For more on this mystery, see here.

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Calendar page for November, with a roundel miniature of a man feeding pigs in the woods, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 11v

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Calendar page for November, with a roundel miniature of a man heading home in a rainstorm, with the zodiac sign Sagittarius, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 12r

- Sarah J Biggs

11 October 2014

Heraldic Herrings, Hedgehogs and Hosiery

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Roll up and find your thirteenth-century ancestor in our latest addition to Digitised Manuscripts!  Heirs of knights or otherwise, you can now enjoy the 324 painted coat of arms on the ‘Dering Roll’ in minute detail. This beautiful roll of arms gains its name from its sixteenth-century owner, Sir Edward Dering, first baronet (b. 1598, d. 1644), antiquary and lieutenant of Dover Castle in Kent. 

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Detail of the 10th, 11th and 12th rows of arms, from the Dering Roll, England (?Dover), c. 1270 – c. 1280, Additional Roll 77720, membrane 1

Not only did Dering accumulate quite the collection of historical documents relating both to Kent and to his ancestors, but he also set up an association called ‘Antiquitas Rediviva’ to collect ‘all memorable notes for historicall illustration of this kingdome’. This impulse wasn’t always kept separate from what might be termed ‘historicall embellishment’, as witnessed by the odd occasion when Dering adjusted names on items in his collection in order to support his claims for the antiquity of his family. 

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Detail of shield no. 61, from
Add Roll 77720, membrane 1

A fine example of this occurs on shield no. 61 where both the original arms and name of ‘Nicole de Criel’ have been erased. Nicholas de Criol’s shield was divided horizontally with red paint applied to the lower half, some of which is still visible behind the saltire cross of Sir Edward’s ancestor ‘Ric fiz Dering’. The scribe making the adjustment (presumably Dering himself) has gone to some effort to maintain as much of the original lettering as possible: ‘Nic’ is easily transformed into ‘Ric’ with a cross stroke, ‘o’ is simply expunged, and the ‘l’ in ‘Nicole’ provides a ready-made ascender for the ‘f’ in ‘fiz’. Even the ‘ri’ are recycled from ‘Criel’ to ‘Dering’. Sadly for Sir Nicholas and his own historical record, his name provided a convenient target for Sir Edward who could incorporate six letters written by the original scribe with six new ones, in an attempt seamlessly to blend past and present concerns.  

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Detail of the fourth and fifth rows of arms on the second membrane, from
Add Roll 77720

In designing a new coat of arms, it was (and still is) necessary for it to be distinct from others already in existence, and it was especially useful if it brought to mind the name of the bearer. Puns provide a helping hand, especially if they are of a simple visual kind, and the Dering Roll can be seen to boast a fine line in pictograms. Shield no. 105 (Azure crusily and six herrings or) belonged to William Heringaud (d. 1326). The use of herrings (Ofr. harenc) is what is known as a ‘canting device’, where the word chosen enunciates the name.  Similarly, shield no. 112 shows three hands (Ofr. mains) and this design belonged to Nicholas Malmains (d. 1292). 

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Detail of the third to sixth rows of arms on the fourth membrane, from
Add Roll 77720

In this short section of roll we have the designs for Nicholas le Lou (Ofr. leu, lou ‘wolf’), Henry de Herice (Ofr. heriҫon ‘hedgehog’), Nicholas de la Heuse (Ofr. hose, huese, heuse ‘men’s hose’), and Henry de Cockington, each appropriately represented by two wolves, three hedgehogs, three stockings and nine cocks, respectively. 

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Detail of the arms of Fulk FitzWaryn (d. 1315) from
Add Roll 77720, membrane 4

Literary historians might be interested in shield no. 271, belonging to Fulk FitzWarin of Whittington (d. 1315). This name will be familiar to readers of the anonymous Anglo-Norman romance Fouke le Fitz Waryn, a fictionalised family history from the Conquest to this Fulk’s grandfather (d. c. 1256). The narrative is based on a verse original of c. 1280 but survives in an Anglo-Norman prose version  of c. 1330, now Royal MS 12 C XII, ff. 33–61. The fantastical elements in this family chronicle – Fouke’s fights with Swedish dragons and Irish giants – are balanced by the genealogical concerns of marriage and birth: the prestige of a folkloric heroism meets a more practical purpose in supporting the family’s claims to inherited lands. This impulse for validation recalls Edward Dering’s adjustments to the roll more than three centuries later.

Heraldic punning is not forgotten here either. The chronicle-romance provides a technical description of the FitzWarin coat as: un escu quartilee de goules e d’argent  endentee; the pun dentz aguz or ‘sharp teeth’ alludes to the indented line in these arms. This particular pun is rather subtle, relying on knowledge of heraldic designs and their associated terms. Much more common, in fact, are the simple pictograms such as the herrings, hedgehogs and hosiery shown above. 

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Detail of the first three rows of arms, from
Add Roll 77720, membrane 1

The reign of Edward I (1272–1307) is seen as the golden age for the production of rolls of arms in England and these documents were designed for the identification of knights in battle and in tournaments. The Dering Roll is the earliest extant roll of arms from this period, dating from c. 1270 – c. 1280, and it accounts for an astonishing one-quarter of the entire English baronage of this time. The 324 painted shields stretch over two and a half metres of vellum and this long list of England’s movers and shakers begins with King John’s illegitimate son, Richard FitzRoy of Kent (d. bef. 1253). More interesting, perhaps, is the prominence given to Stephen of Penchester (shield no. 6) who served as constable of Dover Castle from 1268 until his death in 1298. Indeed, knights of Kent and Sussex dominate and it has been argued that the Dering Roll was designed to supply a list of knights owing feudal service to the Constable of Dover Castle. This has led to the suggestion that Penchester commissioned the Dering Roll, given the coincidence of its dating with his tenure in office.

We hope to learn much more about this fascinating roll now that it is available for detailed scrutiny by scholars, genealogists and members of the public alike. Following its sale at Sotheby’s in late 2007, an export licence was blocked and a fundraising campaign led to its purchase by the British Library. We are grateful for the generous aid received from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, The Art Fund, Friends of the British Library, Friends of the National Libraries and from numerous individual supporters, all of whom helped to save this treasure for the nation.

- Holly James-Maddocks

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

23 September 2014

Guess the Manuscript XV

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Roll up, roll up! It's time to try your luck at another Guess the Manuscript, back by popular demand. As always, the rules are straightforward: the image comes from a manuscript that can be found somewhere on our Digitised Manuscripts website, and is part of our medieval collections. Leave guesses in the comments below, or via Twitter @BLMedieval. We'll update this post with an answer on Friday, Sep 26.

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Update, 25 September: Many congratulations to @yorkherald, who correctly identified this image as the fore-edge from Add MS 27861, a 14th-century Greek Gospel book. You can view it in full on Digitised Manuscripts.

- Cillian O'Hogan

this image comes from a manuscript that is located somewhere on our Digitised Manuscripts site, and is part of our medieval collections.  You can leave your guesses in the comments below, or via Twitter @BLMedieval.  - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2014/07/guess-the-manuscript-xiv.html#sthash.85jnxkjw.dpuf
this image comes from a manuscript that is located somewhere on our Digitised Manuscripts site, and is part of our medieval collections.  You can leave your guesses in the comments below, or via Twitter @BLMedieval.  - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2014/07/guess-the-manuscript-xiv.html#sthash.85jnxkjw.dpuf

01 September 2014

A Calendar Page for September 2014

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

September marks the beginning of the wine-making season in the northern hemisphere, and this is as true today as it was on the pages of our medieval calendar.  In the opening folio, the process is beginning in earnest, as three women are busy picking grapes in a vineyard, loading them into the basket of a waiting man.  Behind them are several grand buildings, while the oenophilic theme of the month is mirrored by the acanthus vines circling round the page.  The labour continues on the facing folio.  Below the saints’ days for September and a woman holding a balance (for the zodiac sign Libra), a man is bringing a full basket of grapes into a barn.  He is greeted by a fellow worker, who stands in a tub full of grapes, crushing them beneath his feet.

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Calendar page for September, with a roundel miniature of people harvesting grapes, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 9v

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Calendar page for September, with a roundel miniature of a men making wine, with the zodiac sign Libra, from the Huth Hours, Netherlands (Bruges or Ghent?), c. 1480, Add MS 38126, f. 10r

- Sarah J Biggs