Mowing at the Morgan 3: Rural narratives of the 16th century.
In the Flemish Breviary of Eleanor of Portugal by the Master of James IV of Scotland (the very name reflects remarkable cosmopolitanism!), complex haymaking detail is crowded into the lower margin of the July folio. June shows sheep-shearing . The Morgan dates straddle the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but the evident delight in the variety of activities, the appearance of women with rakes and forks, of draft animals, of haystacks with ladders, anticipate the rustic narratives of Bruegel.
Jean Poyet’s so-called Hours of Henry VIII, named for and possibly once owned by the polygamous Tudor monarch, was however created when the latter was under ten years old. The brilliantly sophisticated June scene has elements in common with the Limbourg's more famous work for the Duc du Berry, but rearranged. Three men scythe in rhythm at left; barefooted women use forks to rake the loose hay into cocks; the cart, with neither horse nor hay, stands by pollarded willows.
Robert Boyvin’s Book of Hours like Poyet’s is from the early sixteenth century France, but clumsy enough to warrant comparison not with his contemporary but with the work of an earlier generation.
May, showing a youth with a flower and lovers embracing, and June are on the same folio of this French manuscript by a follower of Jean Pichore; the Morgan caption mistakenly calls the scythe a sickle. To the right of this misnamed implement is a monstrous crab.
At the lower right corner of this mainly floral border of the June page of a French Book of Hours from about 1510 is a man scything, given far less importance than in other emerging narrative art of manuscripts of the same period. Indeed, the naturalism of the flowers serves to accentuate the crude retrogression of the mower’s depiction.
This early 16th century Paris manuscript by the Master of Morgan has a haymaking scene of rare detail, including scything, raking, and a well-painted haycock.
A most unusual sequence of months in a French Book of Hours by a follower of the Master of Petrarch’s Triumphs has sheep-shearing in June, playfully complicated by a flirtatious woman spinning wool, a woman wielding a sickle and a man bundling a sheaf in July , and another harvest scene, shown here, with scythes in August. Hay, alas, appears to be absent from all the summer pages, but at least there’s a donkey-sized dog in the August image.
In this handsomely illustrated French (Tours) manuscript by the Master of the Getty Epistles, every page has a charming narrative. June shows sheep being sheared by a woman while a man tries to distract her. This July scene shows hay being mowed by a scythe with a second man resting nearby. The August harvest scene , like the July scene described above, is anomalous in the gender division of labor: a woman is using the sickle, while her male companion sits on the ground binding a sheaf.
The haymaking and harvesting scenes in the famous Da Costa Hours by Simon Bening are equally documentary in their detail and exquisite in their execution. A full page, with no text, is dedicated to each activity. Because no close-ups of the salient details are necessary, both complete July and August folios are shown here.
In this Bening Psalter, done a decade or so later than the Da Costa Hours, June shows sheep being sheared . July has the scythe and August the sickle , but the Morgan caption falsely assumes that July has grain not hay. The July page, shown here is typical. The visual narrative has been relegated again to the margins, but the position of the text implies that it is covering up a wealth of other rustic detail.
Medieval Mowers beyond the Morgan.
The Grimani Breviary , now in Venice but created in the Low Countries at the beginning of the 16th century, and a New York Public Library Book of Hours from the same period, both devote whole pages to the art of haymaking.
The Getty Center in Los Angeles also has a fine collection of Books of Hours, and most of them are well represented on the Getty web-site. But, while the Morgan has generously reproduced every folio of its medieval manuscripts, the Getty has been selective, tending to skip most of the calendar pages in favor of those with religious themes. Exceptional is the treatment of the Spinola Hours from the Flemish workshop of the Master of James IV of Scotland. All the zodiac leaves have been digitized, including the July mowing scene next to the lion sign.
Bening hay scenes in the British Library.
Among the several manuscripts attributed to the Flemish artist Simon Bening are this July haymaking scene , with men mowing and women raking, from 1510-1525, and the famous Golf Book from about a decade later. Two scenes from the Golf Book are shown below: Hunting and haymaking; and an interesting marginal hay cart with a pole to hold down the load.