Archive for the ‘The Medieval Calendar’ Category

Friday, May 22, 2009

Adam and Eve and Arum

Arum maculatum Detail from The Unicorn in Captivity Arum italicum in Flower

Above, from left: Cuckoo-pint (Arum maculatum) growing in Bonnefont Garden; Detail from The Unicorn in Captivity that shows cuckoo-pint growing within the enclosure; Italian arum, (Arum italicum) growing in Bonnefont Garden.

Of all the spring-blooming “cuckoo plants” (see “Sumer is Icumen In,” April 3, 2009) associated not only with the bird but with magic, sexuality, snakes, and death, the cuckoo-pint or wake-robin is the most famous. Read more »

Friday, May 1, 2009

As I Went Out on a May Morning . . .

May Page from the Belles Heures May Activity: Falconry The Zodiacal Sign of Gemini

Above, from left to right: Calendar page for May, 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 Gemini. See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

Riding or walking, in companies of green-clad couples like the courtiers of King Arthur or the Duke de Berry, or by twos, or all alone, like the Dreamer of the Roman de la Rose or the falconer of the Belles Heures, there are many variations on the medieval set piece of the May morning’s outing to the greenwood.
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Friday, April 3, 2009

Sumer Is Icumen In

April page from the Belles Heures April Activity: The Spirit of Spring The Zodiacal Sign of Taurus

Above, from left to right: Calendar page for April, 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 Taurus. See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

Sumer is icumen in, Summer has come in,
Lhude sing cuccu! Loudly sing, Cuckoo!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med The seed grows and the meadow blooms
And springþ þe wde nu, And the wood springs anew,
Sing cuccu! Sing, Cuckoo!
Awe bleteþ after lomb, The ewe bleats after the lamb
Lhouþ after calue cu. The cow lows after the calf.
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ, The bullock stirs, the stag farts,
Murie sing cuccu! Merrily sing, Cuckoo!
Cuccu, cuccu, wel singes þu cuccu; Cuckoo, cuckoo, well you sing, cuckoo;
Ne swik þu nauer nu. Don’t you ever stop now,
Pes: Sing cuccu nu. Sing cuccu. Sing cuckoo now. Sing, Cuckoo.
Sing cuccu. Sing cuccu nu! Sing Cuckoo. Sing cuckoo now!

—From the Middle English round “Sumer is Icumen in.”

The outdoor pleasures of April depicted in medieval calendars were a prelude to the amours of May, and April is the month in which the cuckoo begins to call. Cuculus canorus is a summer migrant that winters in Africa and returns to Europe in the spring. Throughout medieval and Renaissance literature, the song of the cuckoo heralds both the return of spring and of the season of love, as in the famous round “Sumer is Icumen In.” (View the musical notation for “Sumer is Icumen In.”) Read more »

Friday, March 6, 2009

Marching Out

March page from the Belles Heures March Activity: Cultivating Vines The Zodiacal Sign of Aries

Above, from left to right: Calendar page for March, 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 Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1); detail of the activity for the month; detail of the zodiacal symbol Aries. See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

The name “March” is derived from Martius, the Roman god of war, fertility, and vegetation. In ancient Rome, military campaigns traditionally began in the spring, which also coincided with the return to agricultural labor in the fields after the winter rest. Read more »

Friday, February 20, 2009

Fair Maids of February

Budding snowdrops in Bonnefont Garden Snowdrop bulbs opening Fully open flowers

Above, from left to right: a cluster of snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) budding beneath a quince in Bonnefont Garden; each bulb sends up two leaves and a single flowering stem; the fully open flowers persist for weeks.

The snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) is the first spring bulb to emerge in Bonnefont Garden. Native to much of Europe, although probably naturalized in England, Scotland, Holland, Belgium, and Scandinavia, the snowdrop blooms from January to March in woods and scrub and by streams (Martyn Rix and Roger Phillips, The Bulb Book, 1981). It is widely grown in gardens on both sides of the Atlantic, and has escaped and naturalized in Canada and the northeastern United States. Read more »

Friday, February 6, 2009

February Fill-Dyke

February page from the Belles Heures February Activity: Warming Before the Fire The Zodiacal Sign of Pisces

Above, from left to right: Calendar page for February, 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 Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1); detail of the activity for the month; detail of the zodiacal symbol Pisces. See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

February fill dike
Be it black or be it white;
But if it be white,
The better to like.

—From John Ray’s A Collection of English Proverbs, 1670

Rain or snow, the month of February was associated with precipitation and uncertain weather, and abounded in weather lore. Fine weather on the medieval feast of Candlemas (February 2) signified a long winter, and rainy weather an early spring, long before the American institution of Groundhog Day. The groundhog who may or may not see his shadow had European antecedents in the German badger and the Swiss wolf. Read more »

Friday, January 9, 2009

Works and Days: The Medieval Year

January page from the Belles Heures January activity from the Belles Heures Aquarius, from the Belles Heures

Above left to right: Calendar page 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 Cloisters Collection, 1954 (54.1.1). Center: Detail of the activity for the month; Right: Detail of the zodiacal symbol Aquarius. See the Collection Database to learn more about this work of art.

Januar By thys fyre I warme my handys;
Februar And with my spade I delfe my landys.
Marche Here I sette my thynge to sprynge,
Aprile And here I here [hear] the fowlis synge.
Maij I am as lyght as byrde on bowe,
Junij And I wede my corne well I-now [enough]
Julij With my sythe [scythe] my meade [meadow] my mead I [mow];
Auguste And here I shere my corne full low.
September With my flayll I erne my brede,
October And here I sawe [sow] my whete so rede.
November At Martynesmasse I kyll my swine;
December And at Cristesmasse I drynke redde wyne.

(Bridget Henisch, The Medieval Calendar Year, 1999)

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Holly and the Ivy

Detail of a holly from The Mystic Capture of the Unicorn Juvenile ivy growing in Bonnefont Garden Red-berried holly and black-fruited ivy

Above, from left to right: Detail of holly from The Mystic Capture of the Unicorn; juvenile holly growing in Bonnefont Garden; red-berried holly and black-fruited ivy.

Holy stond in the hall
Faire to behold:
Ivy stond without the dore—
She is ful sore acold.

Holy and his mery men
They daunsen and they sing;
Ivy and her maidenes
They wepen and they wring.

—Fifteenth-century carol, Reginald Thorne Davies, Medieval English Lyrics: A Critical Anthology, 1972.

A group of English carols set down in the fifteenth century preserves evidence of a ritual contest between boys bearing branches of holly and girls bearing ivy. The red-berried holly, symbolizing light, warmth, and light, was meant to prevail over the black-fruited ivy, which signified the dark and cold of winter. Thus, ivy remained outside the door while holly was carried triumphantly into the hall. Read more »

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Wreath

Ears of wheat wired to florist's picks Two segments of wheat ears flank a segment of hazelnuts. Preparing to hang the wreath in the Romanesque Hall.

Above, from left to right: ears of wheat wired to florist’s picks; two segments of wheat ears flank a segment of hazelnuts; preparing to hang the wreath in the Romanesque Hall. Photographs by Barbara Bell.

The wreath now on display high on the west wall of the Romanesque Hall above the thirteenth-century limestone doorway from Moutiers-St. Jean was designed and installed for the first time last December. The design is based on that of a wreath motif in a fragment of a fifteenth-century wall hanging in the Museum’s collection, in which four festoons of fruits, leaves, and flowers are bound together with ribbon to form a circle. Read more »

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Decking the Halls: The Arches

boxwood-covered arches Preparing the ivy Decorated arch

Above, from left to right: boxwood-covered form for one of the Main Hall arches; preparing the ivy; a view of the decorated arch above the entry into the Romanesque Hall.

We have been working busily for the last few weeks preparing the holiday decorations that will deck the Museum from the first of December until the fifth of January. The decorations are made from natural materials, and all of the plant stuffs used were associated with the medieval celebration of Christmastide. This great feast embraced the twelve days between the Nativity and the Epiphany, which commemorated the visit of the Three Kings to the infant Jesus.

The wreaths and garlands on display are the work of many hands, and could not be fabricated by the Gardens staff without the help and enthusiasm of volunteers and other staff members who give up their lunch hours and their days off to help gather ivy, secure bay leaves and wheat ears to florist’s picks, and buff apples until they glow.

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