Today is August 1st and thus marks the beginning of our last month of summer.
In honor of this occasion, here is a leaf from the so-called Hours of Henry VIII, illuminated by distinguished French artist Jean Poyer. The miniature shows the harvested sheaves of wheat being brought in by ox-cart, while men work away at threshing the wheat within the barn.
Medieval Books of Hours usually had a set of calendar pages to list the feast days of each month. These often contained illustrations of secular activity appropriate to the month and, oddly, the astrological sign for that month.
Today we begin a new month and it seems only right to look at a couple of June pages:
June page of the so-called "Hours of Henry VIII," illustrated by Jean Poyer.
June page of the DaCosta Hours, illustrated by Simon Bening.
These two pages come from Books of Hours illustrated primarily by the Limbourg brothers:
June page for Les Belles Heures of the Duc de Berry;
June page for the Tres Riches Heures of the Duc de Berry, illustrated by the Limbourg brothers.
We have two January pages from Books of Hours by the Limbourg brothers, done in the early 1400s for the Duc de Berry.
The January page from "Les Belles Heures" was illuminated in about 1405. It is about 9-1/2 inches tall and about 6-1/2 inches wide. Like most calendar pages, it has three parts:
1: Top: In the quatrefoil at the top of the page, a young man and an old man sit back to back, a Janus-like allusion to the beginning and end of the year.
2: Middle: January's feast days.
3: In the quatrefoil at the bottom, the figure of Aquarius is shown as a powerful man wearing only a loincloth. He is pouring water from a jug supported on his shoulder and braced by his hip-planted arm.
The border for this page is quite elaborate. It includes an additional quatrefoil at each side, with one of the duke’s emblems, his arms in a shield supported by a swan.
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The Tres Riches Heures is more colorful, less restrained, and generally more sumptuous than the Belles Heures. It is in fact the most famous Book of Hours in history. It was made in about 1418, mostly by the Limbourg brothers. Each leaf is approximately 9 inches high and 5.5 inches wide.
The Tres Riches Heures uses a two-page format for each month, with astrological signs and activities on one page and the list of feast days on another.
This January page shows the two former components:
At the top, the "zodiacal tympanum" shows its appropriate hemisphere with a solar chariot, the signs and degrees of the zodiac for January, Capricorn the goat and Aquarius the water-bearer. It also contains numbers reflecting the days of the month and the martyrological letters for the ecclesiastical lunar calendar.
The main picture, immediately below, shows the household of Jean, Duc de Berry, exchanging New Year gifts, a January custom. The picture is full of interest -- there appears to be an abbot or bishop; there are a couple of huntsmen; there are two small animals (kittens?) on the table; and a handsome white dog on the floor. Jean de Berry himself can be seen on the right, wearing a brilliant blue robe!
A medieval Book of Hours will usually have a set of calendar pages at the very beginning. In general, each page will have three components: (1) a depiction of an activity appropriate to the month; (2) a list of the important liturgical feast days for the month; and (3) the sign(s) of the zodiac for the month.
You can see the January page for the "DaCosta Book of Hours" at the Morgan Library site. This Book was illuminated by Simon Bening c. 1500.
You can see these pages in a slightly different format by following this link and this one. If you follow the links at the bottom of those pages, you'll find additional information about the pages, the book as a whole, and the artist.
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Another January page appears in the so-called "Hours of Henry VIII," illuminated by Jean Poyer, c. 1500.
The January activities shown here are Feasting and keeping warm. While a heavy snow covers the land, a laborer carries a few logs from the woodpile into the manor. Indoors, the lord of the house sits at his meal, his back to the hearth. His wife, closer to the fire, warms her hands.
Next comes a list of the important liturgical feasts to be observed during January. At the bottom center is Aquarius, the Water Carrier, the main zodiacal sign for the month. Finally, the borders illustrate some of January's major feasts, including, at top left, the Circumcision (feast on January 1).
I'd like to start a new tradition here at S.t.B. of posting one or more "calendar pages" from a medieval book of hours at the beginning of each new month.
Such pages often had three parts: an illustration of an activity common in that month; a list of the month's feast days; and its astrological sign.
The first October page (f. 11r) for today has all three of these components. It comes from Les Belles Heures of the Duc de Berry, illuminated by the Limbourg brothers in about 1405.
- At the top, a bearded man holds up his apron to form a pouch holding seed, which he sows with the other. He is flanked by a large sack of seed and a tiny harrow, the tool used to create furrows in the earth.
- The list of feast days for October appears in the middle of the page.
- At the bottom is a scorpion, the astrological sign for the later part of October.
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The next October page comes from the renowned Tres Riches Heures, made in about 1418, mostly by the Limbourg Brothers. The more sumptuous Tres Riches Heures uses a two-page format for each month, with astrological signs and activities on one page and the list of feast days on another.
This page shows the two former components:
- At the top are Libra and Scorpio, the two astrological signs for October.
- Next come the main activities for this month, the tilling and sowing of seed. In the background is the Louvre, at that time Charles V's royal palace in Paris (now a world-famous museum).
The early pages of a Book of Hours will usually contain a multi-page calendar of the year's feastdays. In an elaborate book, the calendar for each month will begin with an illustration of activities typical of that month and, oddly, the month's astrological sign.
Activities for August usually have to do with the harvest -- harvesting the wheat, binding the sheaves, and threshing. Swimming and falconry are other possibilities. The zodiacal sign for August is the Virgin, Virgo.
Here are the August illustrations from four different Books of Hours:
August, c. 1405, from Les Belles Heures du Duc de Berry, illuminated by the Limbourg brothers;
August, c. 1412, from the Tres Riches Heures, by the Limbourg brothers;
August, c. 1500, from the Hours of Henry VIII, illuminated by Jean Poyer;
August, c. 1515, from the Da Costa Hours, illuminated by Simon Bening.
The Belles Heures of Jean, Duke of Berry, have twelve leaves setting out the yearly calendar at the very beginning of the manuscript. You can read a little about them here and see them all, one by one, here:
January: Youth and Old Age, Aquarius (f. 2r) February: Man Warming his Hands, Pisces (f. 3r) March: Cultivating Vines, Aries (f. 4r) April: Courtier Smelling a Flower, Taurus (f. 5r)
May: Falconing, Gemini (f. 6r) June: Scything Hay, Cancer (f. 7r) July: Harvesting Wheat, Leo (f. 8r) August: Threshing Wheat, Virgo (f. 9r)
September: Treading Grapes, Libra (f. 10r) October: Sowing, Scorpio (f. 11r) November: Feeding Pigs, Sagittarius (f. 12r) December: Slaughtering a Boar, Capricorn (f. 13r)
Portions of several excellent illuminated manuscripts are presented, among them the Breviary of Martin of Aragon, illuminated in 15th century Spain.
Here are the illustrations that accompany the first six months of the liturgical calendar in that Breviary. Each has three parts: St. Paul (as the Church personified); the relevant sign of the zodiac; and two figures, one from the Old Testament and one from the New.
January, f. 2v - Conversion of Saint Paul; Aquarius; Saint Peter and the prophet Jeremiah
February, f. 3v - Saint Paul addressing the Romans; Pisces; Saint John the Evangelist and King David
March, f. 4v - Saint Paul addressing the Corinthians; Aries; Saint James the Great and the prophet Isaiah
April, f. 5v - Saint Paul addressing the Galatians; Taurus; Saint Andrew and the prophet Daniel
May, f. 6v - Saint Paul addressing the Ephesians; Gemini; Saint Philip and the prophet Hosea
June, f. 7v - Saint Paul addressing the Philippians; Cancer; Saint Thomas and the prophet Zephaniah