Archive for the ‘The Medieval Calendar’ Category

Friday, January 15, 2010

The January Feast

jeanne-devreux-january_150 top-detail_150 dp102939_150

Above, from left to right: Detail of the January calendar page from The Hours of Jeanne d’Évreux, ca. 1324–28; detail of the activity for the month of January from The Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, 1405–1408/1409; Ewer with Wild Man Finial (detail), late 15th century, German, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1953 (53.20.2).

In the Middle Ages, the  Christian liturgical year, and not the old Roman calendar, determined the date on which the new year began. The date used differed depending on the period and locale, and coincided with either the Nativity on December 25 or the Annunciation on March 25. However, throughout the Middle Ages, the ancient Roman tradition of January festivities in celebration of the New Year continued unabated. Banquets and gifts were given, and folk rites intended to ensure good fortune and plenty and to stave off disaster and want were performed. The Church discouraged such practices, but found the celebration of the New Year more difficult to suppress than any other calendar tradition inherited from pagan antiquity. Read more »

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Death of the Boar

December calendar page from the Belles Heures thumbnail December activity thumbnail The Zodiacal Sign of Capricorn thumbnail

Above, from left to right: Calendar page for December from the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, 1405–1408/1409. Pol, Jean, and Herman de Limbourg (Franco-Netherlandish, active in France, by 1399–1416). French; Made in Paris. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1); detail of the activity for the month; detail of the zodiacal symbol Capricorn. See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

A boar, wild or domesticated, is an uncastrated adult male pig. Swine were domesticated earlier than any animal other than the dog, and all domesticated hogs descend from a single wild species, Sus scrofa, although numerous subspecies are recognized and many breeds have been developed. Read more »

Friday, November 13, 2009

Pigs and Pannage

November calendar page from the Belles Heures thumbnail November activity thumbnail The Zodiacal Sign of Sagittarius thumbnail

Above, from left to right: Calendar page for November from the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, 1405–1408/1409. Pol, Jean, and Herman de Limbourg (Franco-Netherlandish, active in France, by 1399–1416). French; Made in Paris. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1); detail of the activity for the month; detail of the zodiacal symbol Sagittarius. See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

“September’s Husbandrie” from Thomas Tusser’s Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandrie, 1580.

The term “mast” was applied to any autumnal fodder on which pigs might forage, including beechnuts, haws (the fruit of the hawthorn), and acorns, as well as fungi and roots. Acorns were the principal fodder in fattening up swine to be slaughtered and salted for winter food. While green acorns contain toxins that are poisonous to cattle and to people, they are not harmful to pigs. (Pigs were not reared in winter. Once the boar had sired a litter, he was sacrificed. Bacon and hams were cured after the November slaughter. Bacon grease replaced butter as the principal fat in the winter diet.)

“November’s Husbandrie” from Thomas Tusser’s Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandrie, 1580.

A swineherd carrying a pole or stick to knock down acorns for his pigs frequently appears in the calendar tradition as the activity proper to November, as in the detail from the Belles Heures shown above. A very similar scene is depicted on the November page of the Très Riches Heures.

The same subject is drawn in ink on the lower left margin of the November calendar page of the Hours of Jeanne d’Évreux, currently on display in the Treasury at The Cloisters. Jeanne, queen of France, retained the right to the income from the harvest of acorns in the forest of Nogent for her lifetime.

jeanne november calendar_detail

Jean Pucelle (French, active in Paris, ca. 1320–1334). Detail from the November calendar page from The Hours of Jeanne d’Évreux, ca. 1324–1328. Grisaille and tempera on vellum; 3 1/2 x 2 5/8 in. (8.9 x 6.2 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.2). See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

In medieval forest law, certain rights and privileges were afforded the tenants on the lord’s woodlands; the term “pannage” was used to designate both the practice of bringing pigs to the wood to forage for mast, and the right or privilege to do so. The term could also be applied to payment made to the owner of the woodland in exchange for this privilege, or to the owner’s right to collect payment, or to the income accruing from the privilege.

In England, where the tradition of foraging swine in oak forests was an important part of the agricultural cycle, the Saxon rights of pannage were much reduced by the Norman enclosure of game preserves, and the Saxon diet was greatly reduced when their pigs were deprived of acorns.

Acorns contain fat, carbohydrates and protein. The acorns of the common oak of Britain and northwestern Europe (Quercus robur) have a high tannin content and are too bitter to be palatable, but have been eaten in times of famine. They were ground into a meal that afforded a coarse bread. Alan Davidson notes that both acorns and bread or cakes made from them have remarkable keeping powers.

The Mediterranean holm oak (Quercus ilex var. rotundifolia) bear acorns that are much sweeter, and these are still enjoyed in Spain and Portugal, much as chestnuts are. It is probably the acorns of this species, when roasted and eaten with sugar, that are recommended as a health-giving food in the Tacuinum Sanitatis, a late medieval health handbook based on an eleventh-century Arabic source.

—Deirdre Larkin

Sources:
Arano, Luisa Cogliati. The Medieval Health Handbook: Tacuinum Sanitatis. New York: George Braziller, 1976.

Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Hartley, Dorothy. Lost Country Life. New York: Pantheon Books, 1979.

Husband, Timothy B. The Art of Illumination. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008.

Pérez-Higuera, Teresa. Medieval Calendars. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1997.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Sowing Broadcast

October page from the Belles Heures thumbnail October Activity: Sowing Wheat thumbnail The Zodiacal Sign of Scorpio thumbnail

Above, from left to right: Calendar page for October from the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, 1405–1408/1409. Pol, Jean, and Herman de Limbourg (Franco-Netherlandish, active in France, by 1399–1416). French; Made in Paris. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1); detail of the activity for the month; detail of the zodiacal symbol Scorpio. See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

The annual cycle of cereal production that dominates the depiction of the agricultural year in the medieval calendar tradition began and ended with the sowing of seed corn. Scenes of tilling and sowing typically appear as the activity proper to October, before the arrival of the winter rains. While a plow was used to turn the earth in spring, a harrow was used to prepare the ground in autumn, as in the Très Riches Heures. The harrow was also used to cover the seed once it had been sown. In the Belles Heures, as in many other calendars, a single sower represents the month, although a harrow appears at the edge of the scene.

In The Medieval Calendar Year, Bridget Henisch notes that the sower shown in calendar scenes is always male, although a woman may be shown walking behind him with a sack. Neither do women plow, but a female might be shown guiding the horse who draws the harrow.

In her masterly description of the art of sowing seed broadcast, Dorothy Hartley emphasizes that it was highly skilled and responsible work. (Depending on the grain and the weather, sowing was done either immediately after plowing or harrowing. ) The field to be sown was measured, and the seed was measured into open sacks that were set out at each end of an open furrow. The sower then walked smoothly and steadily down the furrow, counting his steps and keeping them even for the length of the field, guiding his feet down two adjacent plow lines. He then reckoned how many steps he must take to each handful of grain he would cast. (Field workers would not have been able to write or to count above ten, so agricultural tallies were kept by reckoning in four sets of five fingers, making a score.)

If a man sowed from a basket hanging from his neck, he might sow with his right and left hand in alternation. If he used a sowing cloth or apron, he would cast with one hand only and only to one side as he went up or down the furrow. Once the rhythm that determined how many handfuls of seed would be matched to the number of steps needed to cover the ground was established, it remained constant for the whole field. However, a skilled worker might be asked to sow more thinly or thickly in different parts of the field, which might be drier or damper in one place than another. He did this not by changing the rhythm, but by taking a little larger or smaller handful of grain.

—Deirdre Larkin

Sources:
Hartley, Dorothy. Lost Country Life. New York: Pantheon Books, 1979.

Henisch, Bridget Ann. The Medieval Calendar Year. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999.

Pérez-Higuera, Teresa. Medieval Calendars. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1997.

Husband, Timothy B. The Art of Illumination. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Vintage

September page from the Belles Heures thumbnail September Activity thumbnail The Zodiacal Sign of Libra thumbnail

Above, from left to right: Calendar page for September from the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, 1405–1408/1409. Pol, Jean, and Herman de Limbourg (Franco-Netherlandish, active in France, by 1399–1416). French; Made in Paris. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1); detail of the activity for the month; detail of the zodiacal symbol Libra. See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

Images of peasants sowing, reaping, threshing, winnowing, and storing wheat in the appropriate months dominate the medieval calendar tradition—the only agricultural product that rivals wheat’s importance in the cycle of the year is the wine grape, Vitis vinifera. (For more on wine grapes and wine in the Middle Ages, see “Grapevines at The Cloisters,” March 13.). Read more »

Monday, August 31, 2009

Fie, Saint Fiacre!

Saint Fiacre thumbnail Saint Dorothea_thumbnail

Above, from left to right: Saint Fiacre; England, Nottingham, 15th century, Alabaster; H. 16 in. (40.6 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1925 (25.120.227), Former owner: George Grey Barnard, New York; Saint Dorothea, Detail from The Virgin Mary and Five Standing Saints above Predella Panels, 1440–1446, German; Made in Rhine Valley, Pot-metal glass, white glass, vitreous paint, silver stain; Each window 12 ft. 4 1/2 in. x 28 1/4 in. (337.2 x 71.8 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1937 (37.52.1-.6), See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

The feast of Saint Fiacre is celebrated on September 1 in France and in Ireland, but on August 30 in other places. One of several patron saints of gardeners, he was an Irish monk who came to France to dwell in a forest hermitage at Breuil, east of Paris. Read more »

Friday, August 14, 2009

Threshing It Out

August page from the Belles Heures August Activity thumbnail The Zodiacal Sign of Virgo

Above, from left to right: Calendar page for August from the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, 1405–1408/1409. Pol, Jean, and Herman de Limbourg (Franco-Netherlandish, active in France, by 1399–1416). French; Made in Paris. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1); detail of the activity for the month; detail of the zodiacal symbol Virgo. See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

Sometimes busy, bound by rings,
I must eagerly obey my servant,
Break my bed, clamor brightly
That my lord has given me a neck-ring.
Sleep-weary I wait for the grim-hearted
Greeting of a man or woman; I answer
Winter-cold. Sometimes a warm limb
Bursts the bound ring, pleasing my dull
Witted servant and myself. I sing round
The truth if I may in a ringing riddle.

—Anglo-Saxon riddle from The Exeter Riddle Book, translated by Craig Williamson

Read more »

Monday, July 6, 2009

Gaining Grain

July page from the <em>Belles Heures</em> July Activity: Reaping Grain The Zodiacal Sign of Leo

Above, from left to right: Calendar page for July from the Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, 1405–1408/1409. Pol, Jean, and Herman de Limbourg (Franco-Netherlandish, active in France, by 1399–1416). French; Made in Paris. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1); detail of the activity for the month; detail of the zodiacal symbol Leo. See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

“No tempest, good Julie,” said Thomas Tusser. In Tusser’s sixteenth-century English, “July” rhymed with “truly”—as it did until the mid-eighteenth century. (The Oxford Companion to the Year, 1999). If the midsummer storms did not spoil the crops, the farmer could count himself lucky. (For charms against bad weather, see “Midsomer Magick,” June 23.)

The great event of the medieval summer was the harvest. A poor yield meant privation for the whole cycle of the year to come. By July the grain stores of the last harvest were depleted. In the great fourteenth-century poem Piers Plowman, Piers speaks of staving off hunger with a vegetable diet of parsley, leeks, and cabbages, supplemented with a little cream and some cheese, until the grain in his barn can be replenished at Lammas, the first of August. Read more »

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Midsomer Magick

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) Achillea millefolium Sempervivum tectorum

Above from left to right: St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), chief among the magical herbs of midsummer; yarrow (Achillea millefolium), used apotropaically and in love divination; houseleek (Sempervivum tectorum) kept lightning from the roof.

Then doth the iouyful feast of John the Baptist take his turne,
When bonfires great with loftie flame, in every towne doe burne:
And yong men round about with maides, doe daunce in every streete,
With garlandes wrought of Motherwort, or else with Vervaine sweete
And many other flowres faire, with Violets in their hands,
Whereas they all doe fondly thinke, that whosoever standes,
And thorow the flowres beholds the flame, his eyes shall feel no paine.

The Popish Kingdom or Reigne of Antichrist written in Latin Verse by Thos. Naogeorgus and Englyshed by Barnaby Googe, 1570

Naogeorgus (Thomas Kirchmeyer), a Protestant pastor and polemicist, goes on to describe fully the paganistic rites proper to midsummer’s eve in sixteenth-century Catholic Germany: leaping through bonfires, casting herbs and flowers into the flames, solemnly invoking that all ills be consumed in the conflagration until the circle of the year comes round again, and rolling flaming wheels down mountainsides in imitation of the sun, in the hope that all mischief, harm, and danger is likewise thrown down to hell. Read more »

Friday, June 5, 2009

Making Hay

June page from the <em>Belles Heures</em> June Activity: The Reaper The Zodiacal Sign of Cancer

Above, from left to right: Calendar page for June from The Belles Heures of Jean de France, Duc de Berry, 1405–1408/1409. Pol, Jean, and Herman de Limbourg (Franco-Netherlandish, active in France, by 1399–1416). French; Made in Paris. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1); detail of the activity for the month; detail of the zodiacal symbol Cancer. See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

‘Tis all enforced, the fountain and the grot,
While the sweet fields do lie forgot . . .

—Andrew Marvell, “The Mower, Against Gardens”

Read more »