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101 posts categorized "Calendars"

01 December 2017

A calendar page for December 2017

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Happy last month of 2017, dear readers! It’s hard to believe the year is nearly over — and we’re a bit sad to be leaving behind the fabulous characters in the calendar of Add MS 36684! As always, if you’d like to know more about the whole manuscript, see January’s post, and for more on medieval calendars, check out our calendar post from 2011. 

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Calendar pages for December, from a Book of Hours, St Omer or Thérouanne, c. 1320: Add MS 36684, ff. 12v–13r

Our artist has pulled out all the stops for his last calendar pages. In addition to the fabulous birds and hybrid animals decorating the borders of the first folio, there are two fully nude men and one partially nude woman (our labour of the month — more on her in a minute). The nude man in the left margin (modesty protected by the bar border) is having his nose nibbled on by a small animal, whose body was sadly cut off when the manuscript’s leaves were cropped. A dragon roars angrily below, and farther below him — again cropped — is the backside of another nude figure. In the right margin stands another nude man, complete with doe-ears and antennae. The bas-de-page shows a woman’s head atop a long, orange neck extending from between two legs, which are topped with wings.  

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Details of marginal figures: Add MS 36684, f. 12v

In the calendar entries themselves, you will notice two days outlined in gold ink. These can be considered one step up from the feast days (shown in red letters), as they are connected to the life of Christ and his mother, the Virgin Mary. On the first page, on 8 December, is the celebration of the Virgin Mary’s conception; and on the second page, as is expected on 25 December, is the birth of Christ.  

December’s labour of the month is a partially nude woman baking bread in a brick oven. Baking and feasting are the traditional labours for the month of December; perhaps she has discarded some clothing because it’s hot in there!   

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Labour of the month for December: Add MS 36684, f. 12v

On the second page, we see the artist’s omission of the zodiac figure of Virgo, back in August, has left him without an established image to put in the niche. Having run through the rest of the zodiac figures a month early, either by choice or by mistake, he is left to make his own figure for December. Luckily for us, he presents a characteristically fantastic beast — green head, single orange horn, rose coloured body, and bright orange legs. For the first time in the calendar, there are not two heraldic hybrid figures on either side of the niche, but rather, a single creature with the head of a man and a long blue tail.   

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“Zodiac” figure for December: Add MS 36684, f. 13r

While our monthly discussion of Add MS 36684 is now at an end, remember you can go and look at the entire manuscript whenever you’d like on our Digitised Manuscripts site. Here’s to the end of a great year! 

Taylor McCall 

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval 

01 November 2017

A calendar page for November 2017

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Ah, November – the days are shorter and it’s getting colder! Let’s dive into the 11th month as shown in Add MS 36684. If you’d like to know more about this fascinating Book of Hours, see January’s post, and for more on medieval calendars, check out our calendar post from 2011. 

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Calendar pages for November, from a Book of Hours, St Omer or Théouranne, c. 1320, Add MS 36684, ff. 11v–12r

The first page of November’s calendar is a riot of colour and decoration. Crowning the page is a lizard-bird hybrid creature, with a green head, lurid red lips, red feet and a long, feathered tail.  

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Detail of lizard creature, Add MS 36684, f. 11v

The right margin – known in medieval manuscript parlance as the ‘gutter’, because it falls between the two bound pages – includes the intriguing combination of a tonsured male head stuck between two long legs. Above him stands a stork-like figure with bright orange, spindly legs and a long, pointed beak.  

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Right margin, Add MS 36684, f. 11v

November’s labour of the month is arguably the creepiest scene we’ve had in this calendar, but how was it perceived by contemporary audiences? Our labourer wields an enormous axe. The animal in a box next to him is likely a hunting dog used to help capture the boar depicted at the labourer’s feet. The boar is about to be stunned with the back of the axe, before being slaughtered. This method is called ‘poleaxing’ and is the origin of the modern term. A poleaxe is a butcher’s axe with a hammer as well as a blade.

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Slaughtering a boar: the labour of the month for November, Add MS 36684, f. 11v

A similar scene of slaughter for the month of December appears in the Bedford Hours (f. 12r), except the figure holds a giant mallet.

Slaughtering livestock at the beginning of winter ensured the animals were killed before they began to lose the weight gained over summer and autumn. Rural communities could then feast on the fresh meat and preserve as much as possible for the year’s meanest months. In fact, Blotmonath (blood month) was the Anglo-Saxon name for November. This may seem sinister to us now, but for them it must have held a promise of winter feasts and nourishment when food was scarce.  

November’s calendar finishes on the second page with the zodiac figure of Capricorn, shown as a goat. As we discussed in August’s post, the artist is ahead of himself with zodiac figures; Capricorn is normally shown in December, as its period is December-January.  

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Capricorn, Add MS 36684, f. 12r

Please do go and browse all of the wonderful Add MS 36684 in high definition on our Digitised Manuscripts site.  

 

Taylor McCall

Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval 

01 October 2017

A calendar page for October 2017

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Hard to believe it, but it is now October. Let’s see what one of our favourite artists, the ever-creative talent behind Add MS 36684, has given us for this, the tenth month. If you’d like to know more about Additional MS 36684, check out January’s post, and for more on medieval calendars, please see our calendar post from 2011. 

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Calendar pages for October, from a Book of Hours, St Omer or Théouranne, c. 1320, Add MS 36684, ff. 10v–11r

The labour of the month for October, found at the bottom of the first page of October’s calendar, is somewhat ambiguous. The labourer stands in the usual gilded niche, and appears to be outdoors, given the greenery around his feet. He wears a sling made of cloth around his neck, to hold whatever he has been gathering or is planting. October’s labour is usually either planters sowing fields (as in the Hours of Joanna of Castile) or gathering grapes to make wine (as in the London Rothschild Hours). Another possibility is that the labourer is shown gathering acorns for animal feed.  

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Labour of the Month for October, Add MS 36684, f. 10v

On the second page, we have our next misplaced zodiac figure (as we pointed out in in August’s post): a centaur armed with a bow, the traditional figure for Sagittarius, which is the star sign spanning the second half of November and first part of December. The centaur has a particularly majestic tail, which extends out beyond the niche and into the margin. Sagittarius’s index and middle fingers on his right hand are raised in what might look to modern viewers as the ‘peace’ sign, but are in fact the two fingers used to grasp a bow string. We would wish him happy hunting, but he appears to have forgot something important — his arrows! 

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Sagittarius, Add MS 36684, f. 11r

A reminder that you can browse the whole of Additional MS 36684 in high definition on our Digitised Manuscripts site. The leaves are changing and the days are about to get much shorter — make sure you’ve gathered enough acorns and made enough wine to survive the coming winter.

Taylor McCall 
Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval 

01 July 2017

A calendar page for July 2017

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It’s July, which means 2017 is now halfway through — time to check in with the fantastic calendar of Additional MS 36684 for a look at the 7th month! If you’d like to know more about this Book of Hours, check out January’s post, and for more on medieval calendars in general, please see our calendar post from 2011. 

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Calendar pages for July, from a Book of Hours, St Omer or Théouranne, c. 1320, Add MS 36684, ff. 7v–8r

The marginal decoration for July is a riotous combination of brightly-coloured birds and butterflies, contorted human/animal hybrids, and a few marginal figures participating in warm-weather activities. The first is the man (or woman?) taking a nice relaxing bath in the lower left margin of the first calendar page.

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Detail of a figure bathing, Add MS 36684, f. 7v

The second figure, to the right of the labour of the month (more on him in a minute), holds what appears to be a candle in each hand, perhaps a reference to the necessity of making candles in the summer, while the days are longer, in preparation for the dark winter months.

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Detail of a figure holding candles, Add MS 36684, f. 7v

The labour of the month, dressed for warm weather in a short tunic and hat, holds the two handles on the shaft of his long, curved scythe. Within his architectural niche, he is pictured on grass, against a gold background reminiscent of the wheat traditionally harvested by July’s labour of the month.

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Detail of a labour of the month for July, Add MS 36684, f. 7v

On the following folio, below the many saints’ days celebrated in the latter part of July — including St James the Apostle and Mary Magdalene — is the zodiac figure of Leo in his tiny Gothic niche. Leo, traditionally a symbol of fortitude, looks particularly happy in this instance, and rather than being painted a usual golden colour, is instead a dark grey with white accents — likely to contrast with the gold leaf background. Leo is flanked by two green hybrid animals and their instruments, posted on either side of his niche.

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Detail of Leo, Add MS 36684, f. 8r

We hope you enjoy exploring the many figures and decoration for the July calendar pages in Additional MS 36684 – let us know your favourite! And remember, you can see all of Additional MS 36684 online on Digitised Manuscripts. Stay cool, medieval enthusiasts!

Taylor McCall
Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval 

01 June 2017

A calendar page for June 2017

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Happy June, medieval enthusiasts! We’re back with the calendar pages for June from the wonderful Additional MS 36684. For more information on the manuscript, take a peek at January’s post, and for an excellent general guide to medieval calendars, please see our original calendar post from 2011.

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Calendar pages for June, from a Book of Hours, St Omer or Théouranne, c. 1320, Add MS 36684, ff. 6v–7r

The true stars of June’s calendar pages are — as usual with this unique manuscript — the marginal figures. Here are a few of our favourites, zoomed in so you can see them in better detail:

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A long-necked beast with human legs being fed by a bird, Add MS 36684, f. 6v

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A creature with a head atop a pair of long legs, Add MS 36684, f. 6v

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A drummer, Add MS 36684, f. 6v

June’s labour of the month is a peasant at the harvest, carrying a bundle on his back, perhaps entertained by the music played by the drummer in the margin next to him.

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Labour of the Month, Add MS 36684, f. 6v

The zodiac symbol for June is Cancer, traditionally represented as a crab. The fellow in the niche on folio 7r is not a typical crab, but rather — in the vein of the marginal figures on the preceding folio — a hybrid creature, with 6 splayed legs, a tail and a distinctly mammalian head. It is possible the artist had never seen a crab before; or he could have been following an artistic tradition. The typical medieval version of a crab usually looked either like a lobster — as you can see in last year’s Bedford Hours June calendar page — or like our friend here in Additional 36684. For another such example, see, for instance, the crab in Egerton MS 3088, made in southern England c. 1244. 

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Cancer, Add MS 36684, f. 7r

Don’t forget that you can digitally view every page of Additional MS 36684 online on Digitised Manuscripts. Happy harvesting!

Taylor McCall
Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval 

01 May 2017

A Calendar Page for May 2017

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Spring has well and truly sprung — let’s celebrate with a look at the calendar pages for May in everyone’s favourite Additional MS 36684! For more information on the manuscript, take a peek at January’s post, and for an excellent general guide to medieval calendars, please see our original calendar post from 2011.

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Calendar pages for May, from a Book of Hours, St Omer or Théouranne, c. 1320, Add MS 36684, ff. 5v–6r

While May doesn’t have quite as many frolicking nude figures as April, there is still plenty of fun going on. The labour of the month showcases the traditional aristocratic pastime of falconry (or hawking), with a gentleman astride his horse, a falcon perched on his right hand. A popular sport for the moneyed upper classes and royalty, falconry entailed using trained birds of prey to hunt small animals, and remained an elite status symbol for centuries.

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Falconry, Add MS 36684, f. 5v

The marginal figures next to the falconer are the usual mash-up of animal and human hybrids, save for the man labouring at the bottom of the margin. As the page has been cut down some point after the manuscript was made, we can only guess what activity he might be up to.

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Detail of marginalia, Add MS 36684, f. 5v

The zodiac symbol for May is Gemini, represented by a pair of human twins. In Additional MS 36684, the twins are — as was typical — partially nude, their lower halves modestly covered by a large red shield marked by a white bird (perhaps a pelican?). They embrace congenially — everyone is in a good mood in May, when the weather is nice!

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Gemini, Add MS 36684, f. 6r

Don’t forget that you can digitally flip through all of Additional MS 36684 online on Digitised Manuscripts. See you back here on 1 June for more fun!

Taylor McCall
Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval 

02 April 2017

A Calendar Page for April 2017

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Happy April — it's time to have more fun with the calendar pages of Additional MS 36684! If you’ve missed it, find out more information on the manuscript in January’s post, and for more on medieval calendars, check out our original calendar post from 2011.

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Calendar pages for April, from a Book of Hours, St Omer or Théouranne, c. 1320, Add MS 36684, ff. 4v–5r

April is a fruitful month of rebirth, according to Chaucer’s famous opening to his Canterbury Tales (which he wrote about 80 years after this calendar was produced). Fittingly, our labour of the month can be seen merrily pruning a healthy, green plant at the bottom of the page. We especially like the small hybrid figure sporting a full set of stag antlers next to him, and the figures with dinosaur bodies in the margin below.

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Detail of the labour of the month for April, Add MS 36684, f. 4v

Equally fittingly, the artist underscores the idea of April as a fertile month at the start of the calendar with the appearance of two nude frolickers. On the far right of the page, we have a lady reaching up to touch a branch above her, and on the left, another figure, modesty protected by the border, who has unfortunately been decapitated by a later owner when they had the pages trimmed. 

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Detail of a nude woman, Add MS 36684, f. 4v

On the facing page, our zodiac figure for April is the bull Taurus, merrily contemplating the trumpeting dogs outside his miniature Gothic niche.

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Detail of Taurus, Add MS 36684, f. 5r

The calendar pages include the usual notes of specific saints’ feast days, and we can also take a guess as to the date of Easter, arguably the most significant Christian feast day, during at least part of the time the manuscript was in use. There is a colophon dated to 1318 on f. 78r of the manuscript, and we can compute that Easter Sunday fell on 23 April in 1318.

As a reminder, you can see all of Additional MS 36684 online on Digitised Manuscripts. We hope you are all frolicking as happily as our marginal figures!  

Taylor McCall
Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval 

01 March 2017

A Calendar Page for March 2017

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We’re back with more of the weird and wonderful Additional MS 36684 calendar! To find out more on the manuscript in general, see January’s post, and for more on medieval calendars, check out our original calendar post from 2011.

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Calendar page for March, from a Book of Hours, St Omer or Théouranne, c. 1320, Add MS 36684, ff. 2v–3r 

March is traditionally considered to be the beginning of Spring, and accordingly our marginal decorations are springing about, and include drawings of a few butterflies.

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Detail of a butterfly (far left margin) and other marginalia, Add MS 36684, f. 3v

The start of the calendar helpfully tells us that March has 31 days (Martius habet dies xxxi). While there aren’t as many feast days filled in for this month as the previous two,  there is one very important one on folio 4v — the major feast of the Annuntiatio dominica, the Annunciation, marking the day the Virgin Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel and told she would bear a son. This takes place on 25 March — nine months, of course, before Christmas Day.

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Detail of the labour of the month, Add MS 36684, f. 3v

March’s labour of the month is a woman holding two flaming candles inside a Gothic niche. The labour of the month for March usually features depictions of farmers planting seeds or trimming vegetation (see the Bedford Hours example from last year); in this case, perhaps the woman is doing a bit of Spring cleaning!

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Detail of Aries, Add MS 36684, f. 4r

The zodiac sign for March, Aries, is depicted as a white ram inside his own niche opposite the labour of the month. He is flanked by two composite creatures with very long and sharp beaks.

As a reminder, you can see all of Additional MS 36684 online on Digitised Manuscripts. Happy Spring cleaning!

Taylor McCall
 Follow us on Twitter @BLMedieval