Très Riches Heures for November

Calendar page for November showing astrological symbols for November at the top, with a pastoral scene of peasants harvesting acorns for pigs grazing beneath the tree.

Très Riches Heures Musee Cluny MS. 65 f. 11v Calendar page for November Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The November calendar page for the Trés Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (Cluny Musee MS 65 F11v) is one of the pages in the book of hours that the Limbourgs did not complete before they, and their patron Jean Duc de Berry, died June 15 1416 in Paris. Charles I, the Duc de Savoie, commissioned Jean Colombe to finish the central image of the November calendar page sometime between 1485-1489.

The traditional labor of the month for November is gathering acorns to feed pigs. You can see a similar image for the month of November in the British Library’s St. Mary’s Psalter Royal 2 B VII f. 81v.

Acorns are still used to “finish” pigs destined for a later appearance as ham, even now. Indeed, the Middle English lyric describing the labors of the months offers up:

At Martynesmasse I kylle my swine.

The feast day of St. Martin or Martinmas is celebrated on November 11th, and as an autumn feast, it is closely associated with end-0f-harvest feasting as a result of butchering.

 

Detail for the month of November showing peasants harvesting acorns for pigs

Detail for the month of November showing peasants harvesting acorns for pigs

The central panel features a pastoral scene of peasants harvesting acorns from oak trees, for the benefit of swine grazing beneath the trees. In the background on the left a château is partially visible on the bank of a river. The château has not been identified; it’s possible that Colombe relied on his imagination in depicting the château; it’s also possible that it’s not extant and therefor unrecognized.

The peasant on the left looks poised to hurl his stick into the trees, striking the ripe acorns so that they would fall on the ground to be consumed by the waiting pigs. Farther back, in the middle distance, two other peasants accompanied by sticks and pigs are engaged in watching the pigs, and in assisting the acorns to fall.

You’ll notice that the oak trees are very straight, and have had their lower branches lopped off in a practice known as pollarding. It was common in the middle ages in Europe to pollard oak and hazel nut trees by lopping off the lower branches every year or so; these could be used for firewood, and the tree would still grow and bear nuts. It also allowed more trees to be planted, because they could be planted closer together without lower branches inhibiting the growth of nearby trees.

November in Europe has a rich tradition of feeding acorns to pigs, and not just in the Mediterranean countries; Ireland and Britain both relied on acorns (and hazelnuts and hawthorn haws) as important fodder crops. The medieval Brehon laws of Ireland have specific restrictions and protections for the use of mast, particularly acorns. They were crucial in particular in terms of fattening pigs or “finishing” pigs before butchering. Green acorns were hazardous to horses and cows, and not really helpful to swine, hence the practice of harvesting ripe acorns, with the aid of stick or flail.

 

September Très Riches Heures de Duc de Berry

September from the Très Riches Hueres Cluny MS. 65 F.9_v Photo Credit: ©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. Ojéda via Wikimedia Commons.

This grape-picking scene from the Très Riches Heures is one that was completed after the death of the book of hours’ original owner, Jean Duc de Berry. The Duke died in 1416, as did the three Limbourg brothers. In 1485, the Duc de Savoie, who acquired the unfinished manuscript, had the artist Jean Colombe finish half of September. Jean Colombe relied on a placeholder sketch previously made by the original artist. The top portion of the scene, featuring the Château de Saumur, was completed earlier.

In the warmer wine-producing parts of Europe, September, even now, brings the grape harvest. Peasants took to the fields in September to pick the grapes, engaging in the standard labor labor of the month depicted in the the calendar pages of books of hours for the month of September (at least in warmer climates).

If you look at the detail from the central portion of this calender page for Sepetember, you can see that the Château has a mote, with what appears to be a small draw bridge before the entry. A woman with a basket on her head is entering, and a horse (surprisingly it does not appear to be a donkey) with panniers is leaving. Between the Château and the grape vines is an enclosure that served as a tilting ground for tournaments. Just to the right of the tilting ground stands an ox.

In the lower portion of the scene, the grape pickers cut bunches of grapes from the vines and place them in baskets. If you look closely, the two pickers on the bottom left, both in grey, a woman wearing a white apron and a dark head-cloth and a man in grey, appear to be holding grape knives; these knives would also have been used earlier in the year to trim the vines.1)Called a billhook, this frequently used gardening tool had a double-edged curved blade and sometimes, an additional spike or point. It’s not that different from a modern grape harvesting knife. In Latin, the vineyard variety of a billhook was a falx vinatoria. Baskets of grapes are filled and placed in the panniers on the donkeys, or in the large barrels in the ox cart to the right. On the bottom left, a woman in blue and red with a adjusting her maroon head scarf and a white apron appears to be very pregnant. Just behind her, to the right, a young man in brown is sampling the grapes. In the middle right, a peasant is mooning the viewer.

Detail of the calendar page for September showing the Château de Saumur in the background, and peasants harvesting grapes in the foreground, the typical labor of the month in France.

 

References   [ + ]

1. Called a billhook, this frequently used gardening tool had a double-edged curved blade and sometimes, an additional spike or point. It’s not that different from a modern grape harvesting knife. In Latin, the vineyard variety of a billhook was a falx vinatoria.

Free Ebook from RIA: Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks

Modern Ireland in 100 Artworks was edited by Fintan O’Toole and Catherine Marshall. The book, available as an ebook and as a printed book, traces the story of Ireland’s creative output from the revolutionary period until today. The book consists of 100 artworks created from 1916 (the year of the Easter Rising) to 2015, using each year as a spring board to trace the cultural history of Ireland. The works include visual works (paintings, sculptures, architecture) as well as literary; images of the visual works are included. The literary works are represented only by allusion and discussion in the short essays accompanying each piece. It’s interesting, though I suspect more interesting the more you know; I’m woefully ignorant of the visual arts of modern Ireland.

Print copies of the book can be purchased from the Royal Irish AcademyModern Ireland in 100 Artworks is a project of the Royal Irish Academy, in partnership with The Irish Times. The ebook, in both Mobi and EPub formats may be downloaded here.

July from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

July calendar page from the Tres Riche Heures de Jean Duc de BerryThis is the July calendar image from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry. It shows wheat being harvested in a field to the left, while on the right a man and a woman are shearing sheep. The labors of the month are so very dependent on local seasons, and the cooperation of the weather, that it’s not really surprising to see sheep-sheering as a labor for June and July.

In the background is one of the Jean de Berry’s many castles; exactly which castle is in question (only three of his many castles are still extant). If you look very closely at the bottom left of the image, and in the river in front of the castle in the back ground, you can see swans. The swan is one of Jean de Berry’s heraldic devices (the bear is another; and his arms bear the royal fleur de lys).

British Museum Exhibit: Celts: Art and Identity

This exhibit runs from September 24, 2015 – January 31 at the British Museum.Cover of the British Museum's exhibition catalog Celts: Art and Identity

The Battersea Shield, British Museum

The Battersea Shield, British Museum

Celts: Art and Identity is an exhibit created by the British Museum in partnership with National Museums Scotland.British Museum lead curator of the exhibit, Julia Farley (she’s the Curator, European Iron Age collection, British Museum) describes it as “the first major exhibition to explore the full history of Celtic art and identity.”

Ms. Farley writes about the exhibit on the British Museum’s blog: Who were the Celts?

The British Museum’s official Celts: Art and Identity exhibit page (where you can buy tickets!).

There’s an exhibition catalog (paperback and hardcover).

 

Farley, Julia and Hunter Fraser. Eds. Celts: Art and Identiy. British Museum Press, 2015.
ISBN-13: 978-0714128368
ISBN-10: 0714128368
You can buy it from:

Amazon.com
Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository

Celtic Beer

image of charred barley grains from Eberdingen-Hochdorf .

2,550 year-old barley grains, post malting, from Eberdingen-Hochdorf

Ogma was a brewer, and so was Goibhniu, the smith god. Brigid too was a brewer, and there are many references to the consumption of beer in medieval Celtic texts. In that context the recent find that six specially constructed ditches previously excavated at Eberdingen-Hochdorf a 2,550-year-old Celtic settlement, were used to make high-quality barley malt, an essential beer ingredient. (You may recall Hochdorf as a principle Celtic site, where among other important finds in the museum is the grave of the Hochdorf prince.)

Archaeobotanist Hans-Peter Stika of the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart has published a paper in which he discusses the results of chemical analysis of some of the thousands of charred grains of barley found in the six ditches. The paper, published on January 4, 20 in Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences is titled “Early Iron Age and Late Mediaeval malt finds from Germany—attempts at reconstruction of early Celtic brewing and the taste of Celtic beer.”

You can read the abstract, linked above, or download the .pdf of the paper, but the analysis of the malt, in the context of what we know about early brewing in the La Tène Period, fifth –fourth century BCE, Stika suggests that the beer would like have been somewhat smokey in character, with a sour taste (keep in mind that beer in this era would not have used hops).

Replica Carnyx from Tintignac

there were countless trumpeters and horn blowers and since the whole army was shouting its war cries at the same time there was such a confused sound that the noise seemed to come not only from the trumpeters and the soldiers but also from the countryside which was joining in the echo (Polybius 206–126 BCE).

carnyx-gallic-horn-Tintignac

In 2004, archaeologists discovered over 500 iron and bronze items in a small 30cm-deep pit in Tintignac, in France’s Corrèze region. These fragments were all that remained of objects intended as sacrificial donations to the cthonic deities, objects that were deliberately destroyed as part of the ritual donation. Some of the fragments, about 40 fragments, were identified as being parts of a carnyx, a horn used in Celtic warfare, and likely, rituals and ceremonies.

An archaeologist at Inrap (Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives) Christophe Maniquet wanted to know what a carynx sounded like. Maniquet collaborated with Joël Gilbert, a brass instruments specialist and other experts from an acoustics laboratory at the Maine-CNRS University in Le Mans in order to create a replica of the carynx.

You can read more in “Send for the bard!” from The Guardian.

The World of the Celts. Centers of Power—Treasures of Art

Ceramic plate from Gomadingen, Early Hallstatt, c. 700 BCE

Die Welt der Kelten: Zentren der Macht, Kostbarkeiten der Kunst (“The World of the Celts. Centers of Power—Treasures of Art”) will be at the Landesmuseum Stuttgart through February 17. It’s part of a year-long celebration of the area’s Celtic heritage. In an exhibit that is reminiscent of the joint European “Celtic World” exhibit featured as part of the EU opening ceremonies, the exhibit is described as be the largest exhibition of Celtic artefacts in the last thirty years, including some objects never before exhibited in Germany.

This is a joint production from the Archaeological Museum of Baden-Württemberg and the Landesmuseum Wuerttemberg in cooperation with the State Conservation Office in Stuttgart Regional Council and the Historical Museum in Bern.

The Baden-Württemberg State Museum of Archaeology “Centers of Power” exhibit themes is the evolution of Celtic civilization in Central and Western Europe between the 7th and 1st centuries BC, or from the start of the Iron Age to the arrival of the Romans.

The “Altes Schloss” “Treasures of Art” focuses on the art of the ancient Celts. The exhibits include objects from the Heuneburg burial of an aristocratic woman discovered in 2010. This is one of the most important, and richest Celtic finds ever. The burial site was discovered intact, which meant it could be properly, carefully excavated and recorded.

(Hat tip to Medieval Material Culture‘s Karen Larsdatter.)

Isle of Lewis Chess Pieces at Cloisters Museum

image of Isle of Lewis chess piecesThese 12th century walrus-ivory chess pieces are currently on exhibit through April 22, 2012 at the Metropolitan’s Cloisters museum in The Game Of Kings. There’s a fairly lengthy but interesting video from the Metropolitan Museum about the Game of Kings exhibit.

The chessmen were found by a farmer on the Isle of Lewis, the largest of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, in 1831. The Lewis chess pieces seem to have been buried in a sand dune, possibly in a stone cist, near Uig. We don’t even know exactly when they were found, just that it was before 11 April 1831, the date of the first published record. The find includes 93 chessmen from at least four different set, none of them complete, some pieces resembling checkers (possibly for use in Hnefatafl or one of the other similar medieval board games) and a carved ivory belt buckle.

Sir Frederic Madden, the first editor of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, initially published a description of the finds in 1832 (“Historical remarks on the introduction of the game of chess into Europe and on the ancient chessmen discovered in the Isle of Lewis.” Archaeologia XXIV (1832): Queen no. 2, p. 217). The British Museum very quickly purchased most of the pieces. In 1888 the National Museum of Scotland obtained the remaining 11 that had remained in private collections. Today we have 93 Isle of Lewis chess pieces, 11 of which belong to the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The other 82 pieces are in the British Museum.

Cover of British Museum book about the Lewis Chess menThe pieces are strikingly detailed, carved from walrus ivory ranging from 1 5/8 inches to just over 4 inches tall. When they were found, at least some of the pieces were stained carmine red (the convention of black and white pieces is fairly modern, in terms of a game with a history that dates to ). Assuming the Game and Playe of the Chesse was fairly similar to today’s chess, a board big enough for the pieces to be arranged in initial formation would be about 82 cm/32 inches across. They were, based on the era and stylistic features shared with sculptures in Trondheim, most likely made in Norway, c. AD 1150–1200. That would be during the time when the Western Isles including the Hebrides were controlled by Norway. They would have been expensive, and regarded as luxury items.

Cover of David Caldwell's book about the Lewis chess piecesThe faces and expressions are very individualized, and realistic. There are interesting touches that provide characterization; one of the warders, or rooks, is biting his the top edge of his shield in an echo of the Old Norse description of a berserk in Snorri Sturluson’s Ynglinga saga, part of Sturluson’s Heimskringla c. 1230. The Queen very much has a woe-is-me expression; the King while sitting, has his sword drawn and ready. The pawns are all either grave markers, or rune stones, depending on one’s cultural take.

Art historians and chess experts have hypothesized that the hoard might represent the remainders of four complete sets; the sets as hypothesized mean the current pieces lack a knight, 4 warders or rooks, and 45 pawns, in order to complete four sets.

Isle of Lewis replica chess setI suspect the recent resurgence of interest in the Isle of Lewis pieces has something to do with the use of replica pieces in the “Wizard’s Chess” that Ron and Harry play in the film of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I tried rather hard to learn to play chess, thinking I’d purchase this resin replica set of pieces and board based on the Lewis pieces, but alas, I play so poorly that only my computer will attempt to teach me.

3,000 Year Old Gold Torc Found in Fermanagh Bog

Image of the gold torc found in Fermangh bog Found in County Fermanagh in 2009

The torc was found by metal detector Ronnie Johnston Corrard, near the Belle Isle estate in county in Fermanagh in 2009. He didn’t recognize it as a 3,000 year old gold ornament at first, and, thinking it was an old car spring, tucked it in the back of a drawer.

It’s quite large, mostly gold, and dates from 1300-1100 B. C. E. The BBC article asserts that it “would probably have been worn around the waist.”

I confess to being puzzled by that assertion. Torcs are usually worn around the neck, with some possibly worn as bracelets, but not wound around the waist; it’s not practical. It’s far more likely that it was wound in a spiral fashion, or, quite possibly, never worn at all, but a status symbol that was ritually donated to the bog.

You can read about the Fernmanagh Corrad torc yourself here.

Read about other torcs here.