September 20, 2007

Mowing at the Morgan Library 2.

Mowing at the Morgan 2: 15th century rustic landscape description.

Two French Books of Hours from the early fifteenth century show less stylized more animated figures, recognizable rural landscapes, trees adding interest to the hayfield and giving a sense of depth to the image.
Fastolf Book of Hours, June [M27]. 1415-35. Fastolf Book of Hours, June [detail, M27]. 1415-35. Book of Hours: June [M1000]. 1415-25.Book of Hours: June [detail, M1000]. 1415-25.

Two more French Books of Hours from the same period. The first, by the so-called Master of Morgan, has the mower conventionally in June. Although the landscape is still stylized, the texture of grass in the foreground, the smooth horizon and the blue sky beyond suggest rudimentary perspectival depth. The second, remarkably, is in August, an unusually late month for the scythe, and in this crowded mowing scene the scythers seem to be working at cross purposes!
Book of Hours, June [M453]. 1420-35. Book of Hours, June [detail, M453]. 1420-35. Book of Hours, August [M64]. 1425-35.Book of Hours, August [detail, M64]. 1425-35.

Another two French Books of Hours from the 1430s, the first adopting what appears to be the new convention of field, horizon and sky. The second mowing scene is described in the Morgan note as a grain harvest. This is unlikely, not simply because of the month and the scythe, but also the soft green color of the crop. The dark complexion of the mower in the latter is interesting but probably incidental. A new level of realism is evident here, in the sturdy pose of the scyther, the twist of the grass over his blade and the two figures in the background.
Book of Hours, June [M359]. 1430-35. Book of Hours, June [detail, M359]. 1430-35. Book of Hours, June [M358]. 1435-55.Book of Hours, June [detail, M358]. 1435-55.

Two June pages from French Books of Hours of the 1460s show the emergence of swathes or windrows of mown grass serving as decorative devices. The positions and shapes of the image in relation to the texts are almost identical, and the compositions are also similar. However, the second is vastly more sophisticated than the first, in the dynamic posture of the mower, the curved rhythms of the grass which seem to echo his actions, and the delicately depicted chateau in the background.
 Hours of Pierre de Bosredont, June [G77]. 1460s. Hours of Pierre de Bosredont, June [detail, G77]. 1460s.

 Book of Hours: June [M1003]. 1460s. Book of Hours: June [detail, M1003]. 1460s.

A pair of anomalies: a French Book of Hours, the scyther is on the July folio and, conventional in sequence if not month, a sickle and grain harvest follows in August ; and a Flemish manuscript from the same period with the scythe in June (note the peculiar centipede-like crab), not July as is conventional for the more northerly region. The crudeness of the figure has much in common with those of a century before.
Book of Hours, July [M28]. 1460s. Book of Hours, July [detail, M28]. 1460s.  Book of Hours, June [M285]. 1465-1475. Book of Hours, June [M285]. 1465-1475.

In its description of the first of these two manuscripts by Jean Colombe, the Morgan record calls the crop grain, but the scythe and the month imply hay. The roughly sketched mower is given far less care than the flowery interweave which surrounds him. But the second landscape is remarkable; two figures gesturally distinct and overlapping, cut grass lying between them; and beyond a row of trees shrunken by distance, a lake, and a range of mountains each set behind the other with a hint of atmospheric perspective to add to the sense of depth.
 Hours of Jean Robertet, June [M834]. 1465-1475.  Hours of Jean Robertet, June [detail, M834]. 1465-1475. Hours of Anne of France, June [M677]. 1470-80.Hours of Anne of France, June [detail, M677]. 1470-80.

Two more anomalies, one Spanish, the other Flemish. A 15th century Spanish manuscript from the workshop of Juan de Carrion of Burgos has an unusual sequence of monthly occupations: June has a sickle and harvest , while July, shown here, has the scythe. In a Flemish Book of Hours by Jean Marmion, the mower seems to be dancing across the hay with a grace that rivals the Limbourg haymakers in Les Tres Riches Heures (see below). The hay page, anomalous for Flanders, is June not July. While the Spanish and Flemish manuscripts are of the same vintage, their relative sophistication is dramatically different.
 Hours of Infante Don Alfonso of Castile, July [M854]. 1465-80.  Hours of Infante Don Alfonso of Castile, July [detail, M854]. 1465-80. Book of Hours, June [M6]. 1475-85.Book of Hours, June [detail, M6]. 1475-85.

Two late 15th century French Books of Hours, the first from the Chief Associate of Maitre Francois and the second from the workshop of Jean Bourdichon, both have the conventional scything activity for June. The latter figure is squeezed into a small marginal frame surrounded by the fruits and flowers of the season.
Chief Associate of Maitre Francois. Book of Hours, June [M231]. 1480-95. Chief Associate of Maitre Francois. Book of Hours, June [detail, M231]. 1480-95. Jean Bourdichon workshop. Book of Hours, June [M380]. 1485-95.Jean Bourdichon workshop. Book of Hours, June [detail, M380]. 1485-95.

In this Cambrai manuscript, sheep are sheared on the cancer folio, hay, as is typical of Flemish Books of Hours, is mowed in July (shown here), and grain is threshed with a flail in August . Each of these occupational images is a study in greys, quickly sketched.
 Book of Hours, July [M1053]. 1490-1500. Book of Hours, July [detail, M1053]. 1490-1500.

More manuscript mowers beyond the Morgan: Fifteenth century.

June and July, from a 15th century French manuscript in Keble College, Oxford, reproduced from the cover of Kristian Sotrifferís 1990 monograph, Heu und Stroh; and June from the DeGrey Book of Hours, a 15th century Flemish treasure in the National Library of Wales .
June and July. French manuscript. 15th century. June. DeGrey Book of Hours. 15th century.

The Getty Centerís fine collection of Books of Hours is well represented on its web-site . But, while the Morgan has generously reproduced all of its medieval manuscripts and provided high resolution details of the images thereon, the Los Angeles museum has been selective, skipping most of the calendar pages in favor of those with religious themes and leaving the illustrations unexpanded and indistinct. Here are two examples, the first from the workshop of the Master of Rohan, the second by Willem Vrelant of Flanders. Both the French manuscript, dated about 1415, and the Flemish, about 50 years later, have June mowing scenes next to the sign of the crab.
Man mowing, cancer (MS. 22. Fol.6). 1515-20. Man mowing, cancer (MS. Ludwig IX 8, fol 6). 1560s.

The June (cancer) and July (leo) pages from a Book of Hours in the Musee du Moyen-Age, Cluny .
Juin. Calendrier d'un Livre d'Heures a l'usage de Coutances. 15th century. Juli. Calendrier d'un Livre d'Heures a l'usage de Coutances. 15th century.

Two thumbnail images from the Bridgeman Archive barely hint at the quality of their sources. The first is a haymaking and woodcutting scene by Robinet Testard (fl 1475-1523) from the Hours of Charles d'Angouleme, about 1480, allegedly showing an unconventional combination of activities, including, presumably, a second hay crop. The other, a June haymaking scene in the Musee Conde, Chantilly, (Ms 340/603 f9.3), is perplexing as to date. The artist is alleged to be Pietro de Crescenzi (1230-c1320), but Bridgeman dates the image to the fifteenth century, wildly inconsistent but stylistically more plausible. The June frame, barely legible as a mower, is second from the left on the middle row.
October. Hours of Charles d'Angouleme, Ms Lat 1173. c1480. June. Ms 340/603 f9.3. 15th century?

The spartacus schoolnet website gives as the source for the first of these image the 'Fastolf Master's' Book of Hours. Perhaps the cited artist is confused with the Fastolf Master (or Master of Sir John Fastolf, prototype of Shakespeare's Falstaff), who worked in fifteenth century France and whose work we have already seen above in a Morgan manuscript. According to Grove the Fastolf Master flourished between about 1420 and 1460, obviously inconsistent with the date given for this image, but more consistent as to style. The second is from a July page in the British Library , the annotation of which probably gets the crop wrong. The use of the sickle, as we have seen, almost always implies grain not hay.
Book of Hours, c. 1250??.  Calendar page for July. Before 1500.

Two Flemish manuscript pages from the late fifteenth century: the first, from the British Library , shows haymaking in June; the second, by Gerard Horenbout (1465-1541), from the Book of Hours of Joanna of Castile shows July.
Flemish manuscript. June. 1496-1506. Book of Hours of Joanna of Castile: Calendar page for July.

 Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, June. 1440.Here is the climax of haymaking as illumination. Perhaps the most famous of all Books of Hours, Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry by the Limbourg Brothers celebrates June with a wonderful haymaking scene in a meadow by the Seine and the city of Paris. The year of its production is thought to be 1440. Not until the beginning of the next century are there manuscript haymaking scenes which begin to compare with this masterpiece. Elsewhere on our site, we noted the appearance of this Limbourg scene on the cover of Umberto Ecoís Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages, in which there is a relevant passage but no specific reference. "The cosmos of the early Middle Ages gave way to a universe which we could call scientific. Earlier, things had possessed a value not because of what they were but because of what they meant...Even Gothic figurative art, which was the highest point of allegorical sensibility, reflected the new climate. For alongside its vast symbolical ideations there were some pleasant little figures which reveal a freshness of feeling for nature and a close attention to objects." So this field of humble seasonal labor, in which the workers seem to dance rhythmically between their tasks, lies next to the wall of a Gothic Parisian palais of many spires. From the Virgin-like women in the foreground, the row of hay-piles, most primitive of edifices, curve back towards grand architecture, serving the twin needs of medieval allegory and Renaissance perspective.

Posted by Alan Ritch at September 20, 2007 09:41 PM