Works and Days: The Medieval Year » January page from the Belles Heures

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January page from the Belles Heures

In the calendar pages of the Belles Heures, the activity appropriate to the month appears within a quatrefoil frame at the top of each of twelve recto pages, and the appropriate zodiacal sign within a corresponding frame at the bottom.

The text in gold below the image records that January has thirty-one solar days; blue ink is used to indicate that the month has twenty-nine lunar days. The column of feasts proper to January are recorded below. The holy days of the Circumcision (January 1) and the Epiphany (January 6) are rendered in gold; the saints days are in alternating red and blue ink.

The Roman year began on the first of January, both before and after the Julian reform of the calendar in 46 B.C. In the Middle Ages, calendars continued to display the months of the year in twelve columns of twenty-eight to thirty-one days, from January to December, just as the Romans had, and the first of January continued to be designated as New Year’s Day, although the beginning of the numbered year in the Church calendar in Christian countries varied in both time and place: December 25, March 25, and Easter were all used.

See the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History to learn more about manuscript illumination in Northern Europe, or see special exhibitions for information about the exhibition “The Art of Illumination: The Limbourg Brothers and the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry” (on view at the Main Building March 2 through June 13, 2010).

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