Calendar,  Medieval manuscripts

December from the Hours of Henry VIII

Morgan Library Hours of Henry VIII MS H.8 f.6v Calendar image for December detail Illuminated by Jean Poyer France, Tours ca. 1500

This image for December from the Hours of Henry VIII is a really standard image for the labor of December, so much so that I suspect some master pattern book for books of hours is involved. The pigs, shown fattening on mast in November, are now slaughtered and being prepared for butchering. The butcher with his cleaver on the table stands ready, sharpening his knife, already bloodied from the pigs. The weird vaguely pink pointed tongues behind the pigs are meant to be flames; the bristles on the boars are being singed off in preparation for butchering. You don’t generally butcher sows if you can avoid it. There’s a reason that carolers sing about the boar’s head, and not the sow, and why the boar hunt, another favorite image for the labor of December, is featured in medieval literature.

On the opposite side of the boar, a woman kneels, catching the blood from their throats in a pan. The pigs, shown fattening on mast in November, are now slaughtered and being prepared for butchering. The butcher with his cleaver on the table stands ready, sharpening his knife, already bloodied from the pigs. The weird, vaguely pink pointed objects behind the pigs are meant to be flames; the bristles on the boars are being singed off in preparation for butchering.

Farmers don’t generally butcher sows if they can avoid it. There’s a reason that carolers sing about the boar’s head, and not the sow, and why the boar hunt is featured in medieval literature. One boar is plenty for a fair number of sows, but a sow can have as many as 12 piglets, ten are common, and she can bear two litters a year. Sows are worth feeding all winter.

On the opposite side of the boar, a woman kneels, catching the blood from their throats in a pan. This scene is a fairly common one for the labor of December, but this one is strikingly reminiscent of the December image from the Da Costa Hours. I suspect that there maybe a master pattern book for books of hours involved, but I do not know that. There are a number of shared details though, which do support my suspicion.


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