The Golf Book

The Golf Book (British Library Additional Manuscript 24098) is a beautiful book of hours created by the illuminator Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop in Bruges during the 1540s. The Golf Book is generally thought to have been made for a Swiss patron because the MS includes miniature painting of St Boniface of Lausanne, though it otherwise follows the use of Rome. The text is in Latin.

The British Library purchased the MS from Ernst, Freiherr (baron) von Pöllnitz, of Schloss Babenwohl, Bregenz (which, while it is in Austria, is close to the Swiss border) in 1861. Only 30 leaves leafs of the original work (which probably contained hundreds) are extant. The current foliation is not the original; several leaves are out of their proper order. The leaves that remain are likely to be the most elaborately illuminated of the original complete MS.

The Golf Book is so named because of a particularly striking image at the base of the calendar page for September (f. 27r) showing four men playing a game that looks very like golf. Other games and leisure activities are shown in panels beneath all 12 of the calendar images.

Detail from September in The Golf Book showing men playing a game similar to golf
British Library Add. MS 24098 f.27r base of the September calendar showing the “Golf” game

The main calendar image is typically one that features the labor of the month. But the two smaller images at the base of the illustration and beneath the calendar proper tend to juxtapose leisure and labor, aristocrat and peasant. Bening’s work is particularly associated with of landscape scenes in the 12 calendar images, all of which are still extant. All the extant leaves of The Golf Book are available as part of the British Library’s Turning The Pages, and in a non-Flash accessible version. I’ve written about calendar images from the Golf Book for January, May, and June.