A Calendar Page for November 2016
Calendar page for November from the Bedford Hours, France (Paris), c. 1410–1430, Add MS 18850, f. 11r
Winter is beginning to close in on the calendar pages for November from the Bedford Hours.
Detail of miniatures of a man feeding pigs and the zodiac sign Sagittarius, from the calendar page for November, Add MS 18850, f. 11r
November saw a pause in the agricultural calendar of the medieval era, and so in this month we often see different sorts of labours. A common one can be found at the bottom of the first folio for this month; in the miniature on the lower left a man is at work beating acorns from a tree with two sticks. Below him a group of three hogs are feasting on the acorns, a delicacy given to them at this time to fatten them up for winter. To the right is a centaur archer, charmingly dressed in a gorgeous surcoat, for the zodiac sign Sagittarius.
Detail of a marginal roundel of the Nine Muses, from the calendar page for November, Add MS 18850, f. 11r
On the middle right of the folio is a miniature of a group of nine women surrounding a stream and pool of water. The banners they carry identify them as the Nine Muses, the Greek goddesses of inspiration for science and the arts that were later adopted into the Greek pantheon. In some versions of their myths they are described as water nymphs, and in one origin story they were born from four sacred rivers which Pegasus caused to spring forth — a possible explanation for the landscape of this miniature. Rubrics at the bottom of the folio tell us that November ‘is attributed to the nine wisdoms’ because of the number nine.
Calendar page for November, Add MS 18850, f. 11v
The emphasis on the Muses continues in the following folio. On the middle left an armoured man is mounted on a winged horse that has one foot (somewhat gingerly) in the waters of a fountain or pool. The rubrics tell us that this man is Perseus, and the horse must therefore be Pegasus; we may be seeing a scene of the birth of the Muses. At the bottom of the folio the Muses themselves are in evidence beside their spring, kneeling before a well-dressed lady. This is intended to represent Athena on her visit to ‘the font of wisdom’, although this aristocratic and almost matronly version of the goddess is an unusual one.
Detail of marginal roundels of Perseus and Pegasus and Athena and the Muses, from the calendar page for November, Add MS 18850, f. 11v
Sarah J Biggs