This leaf from the Walters Museum prayer book fragment, Walters MS. W.425 f. 1r shows the calendar page for January, with a partial list of saints days in the month. In the border on the right of the page is a small roundel featuring an image of Aquarius, the water-bearer, in the form of a small naked figure (male?) carrying a jug of water in each hand.is
The calendar image shows a fairly conventional labor for the month of January. The scene is indoors. A well dressed man is seated at a table, with his back to a fire.
The man wears a fur-trimmed robe; the scene looks domestic, suggesting a wealthy merchant rather than an aristocrat. A woman is bringing a tray of food to the table. Her clothing, while warm, does not suggest wealth or luxury, her apron and the fact that she is bringing the tray to the man suggests she is a servant rather than a wife. On the table before the man is what looks like a setting for a meal.
The fireplace is large, clearly a source of heat for the room, and the fire is robust, suitable for the cold weather of January. Behind the man is a large bench with a back, pushed right against the wall, under two widows, with a third window on the flanking wall with the fireplace.
The single detail that most intrigues me about this image from Walters MS. W.425 is that the man is holding a hand-mirror, and looking intently into it. I feel as if I’ve seen this as a calendar image motif for January before, but can’t recall where. Images of people looking into mirrors and seeing a reflection of a skull, the speculum consciencie, are sometimes used as a memento mori. Virgo is often depicted as a woman holding a mirror. The bestiary often shows mermaids and sirens admiring themselves in mirrors. Marginalia showing people and grotesques looking into mirrors are fairly common, but I feel as if I’ve seen a man looking into a mirrror as a calendar image before.
This man looking into his mirror is a bit reminiscent of those January images which show the man holding a goblet and a drinking horn, symbolizing the new year and the old, or those images featuring a Janus image, the two heads representing the new year and the old. Is the mirror a symbol of the year to come? Is he looking at the past? Is it a symbol of vanity?
Walters Art Museum, W.425, fol 1r, © 2011 Walters Art Museum, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License