September 27, 2007

Maramureş 2007. Return to hay heaven.

Bruegel. Haymaking [detail]. 1565. Finding himself in central and eastern Europe in the summer of 2007, the hay pilgrim again felt the irresistible magnetism of that northwestern region of Romania known as Maramureş, especially since a huge, traditional wedding of a beautiful Romanian friend would coincide with his visit, and especially since his inefficient but entertaining ramblings in search of hay in southern Germany and the northern Alps had proved to be less productive for the hayinart database. The summer was too wet and the technology too advanced to for any traditional haymaking to survive north of the Alps and west of the Carpathians. After a bizarre series of irrational journeys, from Germany to Geneva to Gatwick and back to Budapest, with a sideways shuttle to Beograd and back again to Budapest, he rented a PT Cruiser (like last year’s but cherry red), and drove six hours further east, to Eden.

Explorers of this sprawling website may have stumbled across a suite of ten illustrated esssays on the magic of Maramureş, written a year ago. They will remember that this corner of Europe is one of the few where hay is made in the Bruegel style and where haymaking itself is a vernacular craft of the most appealing kind.
Bruegel. Peasant Wedding. 1567. And they will understand the appeal of the added incentive, the wedding of the daughter of Petru Berci (star of one of the finest hay photographs ever taken), an event which promised to be Bruegelian in itself. So here, in two parts, is an account of another week in Maramureş: first, some new hay discoveries; and second, some highlights of the remarkable wedding in Sarbi, an event which caused hundreds of celebrating villagers to set aside their scythes, rakes and forks for a whole weekend, and which, like other nuptials documented on this site, allows hayinart similarly to interrupt its primary industry.

Rediscovering the appeal of Surdesti haystacks.
Having arrived in Surdesti after dark, I rose early next morning to discover that the haystack was as beautiful as I had remembered it. Indeed the stacks in and around Surdesti were all as fine in their shapes and textures and juxtapositions as they were last Autumn.
Ritch. Dawn haystack, Surdesti. 2007. Ritch. Haystacks near Plopis. 2007.

Ritch. Haystacks on the edge of Surdesti. 2007. Ritch. Haystacks near Plopis. 2007. Ritch. Haystacks near Plopis. 2007.

Dried hay and drying clothes (homage to Grunwald and the Baia Mare School).
The most prominent painting on the second floor of the Hungarian National Gallery in Budapest is Bela Grunwald’s dazzling 1903 depiction of brightly colored clothes drying on a line next to a haystack already dried by the same sunshine. This motif still appears repeatedly in the Maramureş landscape.
 Ritch. Clothesline and haystack, Feresti. 2007.  Ritch. Clothesline and haystack, near Slatioara. 2007. Ritch. Clothesline and haystack, Surdesti. 2007.

Stacks, stones, shrines and spires.
The juxtaposition of haystacks, grave-markers, road-side shrines, and towering wooden spires remains an irresistible theme of the durably sacred and the ephemerally profane.
 Ritch. Crucifix, Iza Valley. 2007.  Ritch. Gravestone and haystack, Surdesti. 2007. Ritch. Crosses and haystack, Surdesti. 2007.

 Ritch. Haystack, spire, Plopis. 2007.  Ritch. Haystack, spire, Plopis. 2007. Ritch. Haystack, spire, Plopis. 2007.

Ritch. Haystacks, cows and spire, Surdesti. 2007. Ritch. Haystacks, cows and spire, Surdesti. 2007.

Stacking hay near Breb.
The spectacular road which runs along the ridge between Sarbi and Breb offers a vista of hay meadows and apple orchards. Last year, there were no tractors in the landscape. Here a bright little red tractor hitched to a load of apples stands next to a haystack in the process of completion. The tightly woven corona, to be fitted as a plug around the central stake, was full of summer flowers. The old man on top carefully took it from an extended furcoi, then climbed down the ladder. The feet that had compressed the hay were bare. Resting under an apple tree, he pulled on his sandals, while the rest of the family gave their names to the scrupulous professional, my photographer friend, Kathleen.
 Ritch. Stacking hay near Breb. 2007.  Ritch. Stacking hay near Breb. 2007.

Ritch. Corona for a haystack, near Breb. 2007.  Ritch. Taking the corona from the furcoi, near Breb. 2007.  Ritch. Climbing down the stack, near Breb. 2007.

Ritch. Resting under an apple-tree, near Breb. 2007. Ritch. Kathleen taking names of haymakers, near Breb. 2007.

Repairing old stacks.
Imperfectly compressed stacks sometimes separate from their summits, and become even more humanoid. On the road along the Iza Valley, I saw a man, hanging on the central stack, twisting and stomping in an effort to pull an older stack back into respectable shape.
 Ritch. Humanoid stack, near Surdesti. 2007.  Ritch. Repairing an old stack, Iza Valley. 2007. Ritch. Repairing an old stack, Iza Valley. 2007.

Drying hay near Slatioara.
Judging from the wonderful variety of strategies and structures for drying hay beside the road to Slatioara and Glod, we assume that the grass in that narrow valley is particularly thick and damp. A simple geometric classification would summarize the forms, in ascending order of their frequency into triangles, rectangles, and linear exclamation points. But such reductionism does inadequate justice to variations on these themes, the visual rhythms which decorate the meadows, the stages of their construction, and the skill of those who shape them.
 Ritch. Triangular racks, Iza Valley. 2007.  Ritch. Triangular racks, Iza Valley. 2007. Ritch. Triangular racks, Iza Valley. 2007.

Ritch. Empty hay racks, near Slatioara. 2007. Ritch. Empty hay rack and windrows, near Slatioara. 2007.

 Ritch. Hanging hay on racks, near Slatioara. 2007.  Ritch. Hanging hay on racks, near Slatioara. 2007. Ritch. Hanging hay on racks, near Slatioara. 2007.

 Ritch. Hanging hay on racks, near Slatioara. 2007.  Ritch. Resting by a hayrack, near Slatioara. 2007. Ritch. Hayracks, near Slatioara. 2007.


 Ritch. Planting a stake, near Slatioara. 2007.  Ritch. Hanging hay on a stake, near Slatioara. 2007. Ritch. Hanging hay on a stake, near Slatioara. 2007. Ritch. Hanging hay on a stake, near Slatioara. 2007.

 Ritch. Hanging hay on a stake, near Slatioara. 2007.  Ritch. Hanging hay on a stake, near Slatioara. 2007. Ritch. Hanging hay on a stake, near Slatioara. 2007. Ritch. Hanging hay on a stake, near Slatioara. 2007.

 Ritch. Hanging hay on a stake, near Slatioara. 2007.  Ritch. Hanging hay on a stake, near Slatioara. 2007. Ritch. Hanging hay on a stake, near Slatioara. 2007. Ritch. Hanging hay on a stake, near Slatioara. 2007.

Ritch. Hanging hay on a stake, near Slatioara. 2007. Ritch. Hanging hay on a stake, near Slatioara. 2007.

Ritch. Hay on stakes, near Slatioara. 2007. Ritch. Hay on stakes, near Slatioara. 2007.

The changing sopron.
On behalf of our Dutch friend, Wim Lanphen, and his heroic fascination with haysheds with adjustable roofs (soprons in the local dialect), I collected a few examples which I’d missed last year. Among them were inevitable signs of decay and startling evidence of non-traditional materials, including a roof of corrugated plastic, lime-green in color!
Ritch. Sopron, haystack and hay on stakes, near Slatioara. 2007. Ritch. Soprons, Iza Valley. 2007.

 Ritch. Empty sopron, Sarbi. 2007.  Ritch. Berci sopron, Sarbi. 2007. Ritch. Sopron, Feresti. 2007.

 Ritch. Soprons, Feresti. 2007.  Ritch. Sopron, dog,  Feresti. 2007. Ritch. Sopron, hayrack, vegetable garden, Vadu Izei. 2007.

 Ritch. Metal sopron, Vadu Izei. 2007.  Ritch. Soprons, Vadu Izei. 2007. Ritch. Sopron with plastic roof, Vadu Izei. 2007.

 Ritch. Sopron, Vadu Izei. 2007.  Ritch. Sopron and barn, Iza Valley. 2007. Ritch. Barn, Iza Valley. 2007.

 Ritch. Soprons, near Slatioara. 2007.  Ritch. Soprons, near Slatioara. 2007. Ritch. Soprons, near Slatioara. 2007.

 Ritch. Sopron, near Slatioara. 2007.  Ritch. Sopron and cow-barn, near Slatioara. 2007. Ritch. Farm-house and cow-barn, near Slatioara. 2007.

Ritch.  Woman using mechanical mower, near Surdesti.Technological change and a Hungarian postscript.
The hand-pushed mechanical mower which has begun to replace the scythe has evidently effected another change. Along with their traditional roles as rakers, women, as well as men, can now be seen cutting the grass. But technological progress in Maramures has fortunately far to go before it catches up with that of the modern farms of neighboring Hungary. Looming near the M3 motorway, southwest of Eger, near the village of Ludas, is what may be the world’s tallest haystack, a metal-framed structure, about six times higher than the highest stack in Romania. I paused during my rush back into modern Europe, and hiked back a mile or so from the nearest freeway exit to try to make sense of this monster. The end view, from the south, gives a certain industrial dignity to the tall narrow structure with its diagonal wire supports, apparently delicate but evidently strong enough to resist the winter easterlies that blow uninterrupted across the Hungarian Plain . The view from the west, revealing its full width, shows an irregular, shaggy sagging which is almost zoomorphic, both as a whole and in each modular frame. It is impossible to know whether this is the haystack of the future or some eccentric engineering aberration.
 Ritch. Modern haystack, near Ludas, Hungary. 2007.  Ritch. Modern haystack, near Ludas, Hungary. 2007.

 Ritch. Modern haystack, near Ludas, Hungary. 2007.  Ritch. Modern haystack, near Ludas, Hungary. 2007. Ritch. Modern haystack, near Ludas, Hungary. 2007.

Posted by Alan Ritch at 09:18 PM

Maramures 2007: Ileana's wedding.

Ileana’s wedding: a ceremonial interlude from summer hay.

Ritch. Caroline Juler at the Berci wedding feast. 2007. "Ileana Berci's wedding was one of the most spectacular sights I've ever had the privilege to witness in Romania." -- Caroline Juler, author of the Blue Guide to Romania, Searching for Sarmizegetusa , and the newly published National Geographic Traveler Guide to Romania.

Petru cuts grass and his face before Ileana’s wedding.
Half-an-hour before his only daughter’s wedding was due to begin, Petru Berci was in the orchard, cutting grass for the animals. Later that night, he would leave the celebrations to feed them and milk the cows. During most of the ceremonies he would play a supporting role, serving tuica to the male guests, virtually invisible during the bridal procession and excluded, by tradition, from the inner, primarily god-parents’, circle in the biserica. Even at the night-long feasting and dancing at the community center, he seemed neither to eat nor dance, helping instead to wash some of the literally thousands of dishes in preparation for the long series of courses. He complained only once. Shaving with what appeared to be a dull razor, he cut himself repeatedly. Irritated more by the inconveniently messy blood than by the discomfort, he muttered untranslatable annoyance into the still quiet courtyard.
Ritch. Petru Berci before the wedding. 2007. Ritch. Wedding day grass for the Berci animals. 2007. Ritch. Petru Berci shaving. 2007.

The bride and her relatives in the yard.
Ileana came from the Sighetu hairdressers a few minutes before the ceremony was alleged to begin. Fortunately, since she was informally dressed at the time, the actual ceremony was several hours away. The tradition keeps the bride waiting with her entourage for at least three hours in the formal “best rooms,” that part of the house upstairs which is used only by very special guests or for very special occasions. Maria, Ileana’s grandmother, works as hard as her son-in-law Petru and almost never appears in fine clothes. She looks beautiful in her best scarf, seeming older but more striking than her sister who raised her daughters to be sophisticated urbanites. One of them here is smiling, a rare expression for any member of this wealthy but sullen branch of the family.
Ritch. Ileana Berci arrives from the salon. 2007. Ritch. Maria the grandmother dresses for the wedding. 2007. Ritch. Maria's city sister and niece. 2007.

Decorating the cars.
While members of the bridal party gradually filtered into the yard through the big wooden gateway, young boys decorated the cars parked outside with ribbons and balloons. Even the PT Cruiser rented by a guest from California had its share of paper ribbons, which would drift beside the car for the length of the ceremony and celebration, until shredded by a violent hailstorm the following evening. The street itself was not yet crowded enough to impede the progress of a horse-drawn hay-wagon, as some villagers took advantage of the fine afternoon to bring home some hay before the festivities.
Ritch. Decorating the wedding car. 2007. Ritch. Decorating the wedding car. 2007. Ritch. Decorated PT Cruiser. 2007.

Ritch. Young girls and a decorated car. 2007. Ritch. Hay wagon and wedding guests. 2007.

Boys in the band.
The bride’s band consisted of a few young and musically inexperienced boys, trained and led by Petru’s brother, the principal of the local high school and a very competent fiddler. The boys came early and Maria gave them some encouragement in the yard.
Ritch. Young boys in the band arrive. 2007. Ritch. Young boys in the band. 2007. Ritch. Maria talking to young boys in the band. 2007.

Bride’s friends and family wait in the yard.
Most of the women were dressed in traditional costume, some, especially the young ones, with intricate hair-arrangements that could not be covered, and many, especially among the older group, with head-scarves.
Ritch. Well dressed little girl. 2007. Ritch. Well dressed young women. 2007. Ritch. Maria and friend. 2007.

Guests sat on the benches that ran along one side of the farmyard in front of the car with Virginia plates given to the family by my friend the photographer, Kathleen.. Among them was Kathleen herself, who as one of Ileana’s several official god-parents would have a formal role in the procession, the ceremony, and the giving of monetary gifts. Here she is listening to another god-parent, a college professor from Cluj, who is advising her on what other god-parents would be expecting to give. From time to time, Ileana would come from the upstairs room onto the balcony from which she would greet her family and friends.
Ritch. Guests waiting in the farmyard. 2007. Ritch. Kathleen and another godparent discuss the size of the gift. 2007. Ritch. Ileana on the balcony. 2007.

Preparations in the best room.
In one of the best rooms, surrounded by the family’s finest textiles and furnishings and helped by her closest friends, Ileana was having the final touches applied to her face and her dress. Next door, a table of drinks and cakes was laid out, in preparation for the bridal party who would wait with her during the nervous hours before the groom’s arrival. Pictures of Ileana looked down from the walls and from a laptop computer in the corner of the room.
Ritch. Ileana primping in the best room. 2007. Ritch. Ileana primping in the best room. 2007. Ritch. Setting the table for the bride's family.

Bride’s party waiting in the best room.
The first people to settle in the best seats in the best room were male members of the god-parent family from Baia Mare. Their hostile expressions were startling in the context of rural Maramures where friendliness to strangers and hospitality to the camera are taken for granted. Other, younger friends of the bride sat around the next room.
Ritch. The bride's city godparents get the best seats. 2007. Ritch. Bride's friends in the best room. 2007.

Ritch. Bride's friends in the best room. 2007. Ritch. Bride's friends in the best room.

Band in the best room.
In the room closest to the balcony, a trio of young musicians, led by Petru’s brother, entertained the guests with simple folk melodies. A small girl stood close to the noisy drummer with her hands over her ears.
Ritch. Band in the best room. 2007. Ritch. Band in the best room. 2007.

Ritch. Band in the best room. 2007. Ritch. Band in the best room. 2007.

Boys and girls on separate benches.
Petru walked along the benches plying the young men with the family’s best plum brandy, tuica. Nearby the young women sat on their own benches and seemed not to be drinking.
Ritch. Petru offering tuica to the male guests. 2007. Ritch. Male guests drinking tuica. 2007. Ritch. Female guests sit separately.

Shy flirtations.
As the boys became more flushed from the tuica, some stood near the gate, where groups of young girls, flushed with shyness, approached them. Girls from the city, dressed in fancy modern dresses, understandably seemed more sure of themselves, while the girls in traditional dress engaged in more formal rituals of courtship, for example, pinning lace flowers on the shirts of boys they liked.
Ritch. Shy flirtation with country and city girls. 2007. Ritch. Shy flirtation with country and city girls. 2007.

Ritch. More tuica as country girls approach male guests. 2007. Ritch. Country girls approach male guests. 2007. Ritch. Girl pins lace flower on boy’s shirt.

Villagers waiting at the gate.
In the shadow of the great wooden gateway, women and girls of all ages, evidently most of the village of Sarbi, stood and watched with growing excitement as the crowd of guests grew more impressive.
Ritch. Women from the village wait by the gate. 2007. Ritch. Women from the village wait by the gate. 2007.

Ritch. Woman and baby wait by the gate. 2007. Ritch. Children wait by the gate. 2007.

Flowery horses.
Suddenly a rider trotted through the gateway, his horse so covered in ribbons and flowers that only ears and hooves were visible. The appearance was startling and reminiscent of traditional Indian weddings, but here no fewer than four equestrians rode up and down the street and into and out from the farmyard to everyone’s pleasure and occasional alarm. Those men and women who were most experienced with managing horses, helped the riders deal with the inevitable skittishness.
Ritch. Rider at the gate on flowery horse. 2007. Ritch. Rider in courtyard on flowery horse. 2007. Ritch. Rider at the gate on flowery horse.

Ritch. Rider at the gate on flowery horse. 2007. Ritch. Horse rider closeup. 2007.

Ritch. Woman calms flowery horse. 2007. Ritch. Young men at gate by horse. 2007.

Bridegroom’s procession and arrival.
After at least three hours, we heard the sound of music drifting along the road from the direction of Budesti. The bridegroom’s party was coming at last, led by a band of fine professional musicians, playing and singing boisterous traditional wedding music. At one point the group sat down in the street and sang even more loudly than ever. Petru stood by the gate and welcomed his future son-in-law into the household.
Ritch. Musicians lead bridegroom’s procession. 2007. Ritch. Bridegroom’s music in the street. 2007.

Ritch. Bridegroom and family approach the gate.Ritch. Petru welcomes bridegroom and family at the gate.

Bridegroom’s party waiting in the yard.
The groom having climbed up to the best rooms to meet his intended, his entourage stood in groups around the yard, chatting informally with friends of the bride.
Ritch. Bridegroom’s entourage wait in the courtyard. 2007. Ritch. Bridegroom’s entourage wait in the courtyard. 2007. Ritch. Two entourages meet in the courtyard.

Children from the bridegroom’s party.
Chubby little children from the bridegroom’s party alternately posed with earnest seriousness or giggled at minor mishaps with the traditional headwear.
Ritch. Children from the bridegroom’s entourage. 2007. Ritch. Children from the bridegroom’s entourage. 2007. Ritch. Children from the bridegroom’s entourage.

Children from the bridal party.
Two small girls from the bride’s party finally persuaded a third to join them in a wonderfully cute portrait, spoiled only by the middle elf’s last-second wrinkle.
Ritch. Children from the bride’s entourage. 2007. Ritch. Children from the bride’s entourage. 2007.

Vasilyi dances in the courtyard.
The occasion, the music, and possibly the tuica, stimulated Vasilyi (next-door neighbor and related by marriage to the Berci family), to do a wild song and dance in the courtyard, infectious entertainment during the lull while the groom paying his ritual respects upstairs.
Ritch. Musicians in the courtyard. 2007. Ritch. Vasilyi dances. 2007. Ritch. Vasilyi dances. 2007.

The groom and bride begin their separate processions to the biserica.
Kathleen, holding the candle and flowers of her official role, stood talking to her dear old friend Matusha, sister of Maria, and next-door neighbor of the Bercis. While they talked the groom came down from the best rooms and soon after led his entourage back to the street and off towards the biserica (wooden church). Then Ileana, more lovely than ever, descended with her party, which Kathleen joined as they followed the horses out through the gateway to the road.
Ritch. Kathleen and Matusha in the courtyard. Ritch. Groom coming downstairs. 2007. Ritch. Bride coming downstairs. 2007. Ritch. Bride’s entourage about to leave yard.

Beginning the bride’s procession.
The main street, indeed the only street, of Sarbi, is the primary road between Sighetu and the larger village of Budesti, was filled from one side to the other with people following the bride towards the biserica.
Ritch. Flowery horses leaving yard. 2007. Ritch. Villagers in bride’s procession. 2007. Ritch. Villagers in bride’s procession. 2007.

Musician’s lead the bride’s procession.
At the head of the bride’s party was Petru’s brother and his small band of musicians, with Vasilyi still skipping and singing with irrepressible glee.

Ritch. Musicians lead bride’s procession.Ritch. Musicians lead bride’s procession.

The bride’s procession.
In the middle of the commotion, Ileana looked serene and confident.

Ritch. Bride’s procession.Ritch. Bride’s procession. Ritch. Bride approaches the biserica. 2007.

Horsemen ride between the two processions.
Evidently the riders’ role was to weave between the two processions both clearing a path and keeping them separate. The horses seemed to glow with color in the twilight.
Ritch. Flowery horse clears way for bride. 2007. Ritch. Flowery horse clears way for bride. 2007. Ritch. Flowery horse clears way for bride.

A moving digression.
After the joyful journey along the road and up the steep path to the biserica, there was an abrupt change of mood. A woman in black stood weeping next to a gleaming new grave-stone close to the church-porch. Ileana and her mother, another Ileana, stepped out of the wedding group to the grave. The name Ileana was also on the stone. I had heard of the young woman who lived only three houses from the Bercis, only two years older than the bride and one of her closest friends, a victim of cancer earlier this year. There is a powerful connection between weddings and death in this region. Young women who die before marriage are dressed in white bridal gowns for their funerals. So this digression, though brief, was deeply moving. After a few minutes, much crying and several words of comfort, two surviving Ileanas, the bride’s make-up now marred a little by her tears were reunited with the larger wedding party at the church-door and greeted solemnly by the young priest whose orthodox service we had attended here last year.
Ritch. Another Ileana’s grave. 2007. Ritch. Emotional digression. Ritch. Bride and groom enter the biserica. 2007.

The long, hot ceremony.
The small, exquisite wooden church, like the best of all best rooms, is beautifully decorated with hanging textiles and icons. The floor is thickly carpeted, every inch of which was quickly covered by the soles of the combined entourages. The balcony seemed dangerously loaded with people. The couple stood in front of the priest at the altar, with an inner circle of god-parents close behind them. Ileana’s immediate family struggled behind this ring to try to catch a glimpse of their daughter and follow the long, hot ceremony which would take her from them. Ileana the mother and Maria the grandmother could see nothing but the broad backs of the Baia Mare god-parents, although tall Petru seemed to have a marginally better view. The explanation, given later, was that such exclusion was traditional. Less traditional was the throng of intrusive photographers, mostly Italian for some obscure reason (yes, Ileana has Italian god-parents, too!), who virtually crawled around the back of the altar to find good angles. Evidently this is a common and accepted practice, hence, the popularity of wedding videos as ceaseless entertainment on so many Maramures televisions. Pressed against a side window and eager for a good angle too, I could hardly complain, especially since I felt somewhat pushy for even being inside the church. Kathleen herself carried her ceremonial candle in one hand and her professional camera in the other. The details of the service were difficult to follow, although there were recognizable moments: the bride and groom were crowned, gave their vows, and then led a circular procession in the small space before the altar. When it was over, the priest and several others signed what appeared to be the official registry, and then we all moved at last into the cool fresh air of evening.
Ritch. Bride is crowned. 2007. Ritch. Priest and crowned groom. 2007. Ritch. Crowned bride. 2007.

Ritch. Groom’s relatives watching. 2007. Ritch. Groom’s relatives watching. 2007. Ritch. Church choir listening. 2007.

Ritch. Ending the ceremony. 2007. Ritch. Signing the register. 2007. Ritch. Bride and groom. 2007.

Leaving the biserica.
Outside the church in the darkness was a large crowd of villagers who had chosen not to compete for a place inside. There were no cheers, no hugs, no verbal greetings, simply a mood of quiet exhilaration,.
Ritch. An anxious moment. 2007. Ritch. Leaving the biserica. 2007. Ritch. Girls waiting outside. 2007.

Arriving back at the street.
An even larger crowd, but not much noisier than the one near the biserica, lined the street at the bottom of the church path. Ileana and her husband walked among them, poised and smiling quietly.
Ritch. Bride arrives at street. 2007. Ritch. Proud grandmother Maria. 2007. Ritch. Village women waiting in street. 2007.

The celebration begins.
It is only a mile or so from Sarbi to the center of Budesti, where the wedding feast was to be held. Since Kathleen had to be there promptly, I offered to drive her there and soon regretted the decision. A long line of cars and several busses crawled up the hill at a slower than walking pace. So we parked at the edge of Budesti and walked the rest of the way to the community center, a large hall already occupied by hundreds of people sitting at endless rows of tables. Each table was loaded with dozens of bottles of various drinks, and each place was neatly set with two plates, one of cold cuts, the other of cookies, apparently an adequate meal, since the whole population of two villages had evidently to be fed. These plates proved to be merely appetizers. Every hour or two throughout the night, a large and busy team of boys and girls served one hot entrée after another to every guest: pork roast; beef brisket; chicken stew; and so on. All were eagerly consumed, even by those too old to be burning off the calories in brilliantly athletic traditional dances which everyone from the age of eight or so seemed to know.
Ritch. Bride and groom greet the village. 2007. Ritch. Feast at the Budesti community center. 2007. Ritch. Feast at the Budesti community center. 2007.

Music and dance at Budesti community center.
The giddy dances were too daunting to invite the participation of an ancient foreigner, but enjoyable enough to watch for hours. The music was equally brilliant, a haunting mixture of regional, gypsy and popular refrains, played with breathless skill on electronically enhanced fiddle, keyboard, accordion and sax. The volume was deafening but agreeable enough when conversations were no longer attempted.
Ritch. Dancing at the Budesti community center. 2007. Ritch. Dancing at the Budesti community center. 2007.

 Ritch. Musicians at the Budesti community center. 2007. Above the instruments soared the voice of a truly impressive female vocalist. She was apparently a popular recording artiste whose songs were a staple of the Maramures airways, and she kept me entertained until it was almost dawn. Later I learned that the music and dancing went on until well into the morning. Kathleen told me later the band had cost over 5,000 euros, a bargain considering their skill and energy, but astonishing when added to the cost of half a dozen complete meals multiplied by at least five hundred people, and all the usual expenses of an uninhibitedly extravagant wedding. Ileana’s parents were too busy washing dishes at the back of the hall to contemplate the cost and consider what labor-saving alternatives the money might have purchased. Perhaps Petru’s beautifully constructed haystacks will continue to be made without tractors, mechanical mowers and balers for a few more years. Before the dance was over, Kathleen drove Petru back to the house for the morning milking. Undoubtedly, having attempted unsuccessfully to fatten all his fellow villagers, he fed his animals the priceless grass he’d cut the day before.

Posted by Alan Ritch at 07:01 PM

September 24, 2007

Bruegel's Seasons.

Bruegel’s seasons and hay on the walls of Prague.

 Bruegel. Haymaking [detail]. 1565.With the dozens of medieval seasonal scything scenes in mind, a recent viewing of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s harvest painting a few blocks up Fifth Avenue from the Morgan Library stimulated a peculiar compulsion to see all five of the brillian Bruegel suite of seasons in a single summer. This entailed a pleasant trip to Prague, where, earlier this year, the greatest haymaking scene of all was moved into the city from a less convenient suburban castle. The other three are also reasonably close to Prague in the grand Viennese Kunsthistorisches Museum, which houses huge roomfuls other Bruegel masterpieces. And the Prague visitor whose vision is honed for the hay habit will find several other scythes on the walls of that great city.

Bruegel’s “Months,” as they are conventionally called, are seen by scholars as a logical extension of the illustrated manuscript calendars that preceded them for four hundred years and especially of the Simon Bening landscapes from earlier in the sixteenth century. There remains uncertainty about the number of paintings originally in the cycle and indeed precisely which months the survivors represent. Iain Buchanan’s thoughtful essay in the Burlington Magazine (August 1990, pp. 541-550) reviewed the arguments of earlier writers and concluded, based in part on the familiar iconography of seasonal rustic activity, that Haymaking represented June and July, and the Corn Harvest August and September. But the work and play in Bruegel’s landscapes are more varied than even those in the Bening’s most complex manuscript scenes (see our Morgan Library 3, below). They include secular Flemish folk references that were understandably absent from the sacred Books of Hours. Buchanan’s useful table of Labors of the Months in seven calendar cycles from the Bening Workshop (p. 550) shows Haymaking invariably as the July activity, confirming our own observations about mowing in the Morgan Library Flemish calendars. But he fails to note additional evidence for June-July as Bruegel’s months of hay, notably that June, not July, was the most common mowing month in the French manuscript calendars.

Based on manuscript conventions and images of Flemish folklore, Buchanan persuasively argues that the three famous Vienna paintings Return of the Herd, Hunters in the Snow, and Gloomy Day, were originally devoted respectively to October-November, December-January, and February-March, and that the missing painting probably represented April and May. Here is the trio representing October through March, forming a kind of brilliant triptych as they now hang together in the main Bruegel Gallery in the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
Bruegel. Return of the Herd. 1565.  Bruegel. Hunters in the Snow. 1565. Bruegel. Gloomy Day. 1565.

Separated by several thousand miles, an ocean and a continent, the summer months ought to hang together like this, as they originally did in the villa of the wealthy Antwerp merchant, Niclaes Jongelinck, for whom they were painted.
Bruegel. Haymaking. 1565. Bruegel. Corn Harvest. 1565.

This natural summer pair were separated about half their lives ago. The harvest scene was taken west first to Paris as Napoleonic plunder, and then, just after the first World War, to the Metropolitan Museum where it now hangs, not particularly prominent in that vast complex of incomparable examples from every place and period. Haymaking moved east and remained in aristocratic collections until the Soviet era, when it became part of the Czech national collections, before returning to the Lobkowicz family after the velvet revolution. For more than a decade, the family kept it in a castle about 20 kilometers upriver from Prague, but it has now been made the most prominent object in the so-called “Princely Collections” in the Lobkowicz Palace, just inside the gates of the Prague Castle complex itself. Here are some of the promotional materials for the princely palace, all using Bruegel’s rustic hay landscape as the featured attraction.
Ticket and guide to Lobkowicz Palace, Prague. Advertizing flier to Lobkowicz collection, found in a Prague restaurant. Banner outside Lobkowicz Palace.

Other mowers on the walls of Prague.

Near Prague Castle, on the same hill which dominates this magnificent city is the famous cathedral of St. Vitus. Most visitors troop by the south wall of the cathedral, some giving a cursory glance to the mosaic above the golden portal. But few pay much attention to the bronze gates across the portal, since they are mentioned in very few guide-books. But to the alert hay enthusiast who has just emerged from the Bruegel shrine, the sculptures on the gates are instantly recognizable as modern versions of the ancient occupations of the seasons, each pairing a traditional rustic activity with a sign from the zodiac. The medieval themes are expressed in a vaguely modernist style. Indeed they were cast in 1955 by the Czech sculptor Jaroslav Horejc. A few of the twelve figures are shown at left below, followed by a detail showing June, a man sharpening his scythe, with the sign of cancer, and July a drinking scyther with a woman bundling a sheaf and, above her, a remarkable aerial view of a field of stooks.
Horejc. Bronze gate. St. Vitus Cathedral. 1955. Horejc. Bronze gate. St. Vitus Cathedral. 1955.  Horejc. Bronze gate. St. Vitus Cathedral. 1955.

Down in medieval Prague across the river, a crowd gathers near the old town hall at the top of every hour, to watch the parade of figures emerge from one of Europe’s most complicated clocks. Just beneath the clock is a large circular zodiac, and by each sign, yet another version of the labor of each month. While the famous clock was built at the time of Bruegel, the calendar was created in the nineteenth century by the Czech painter Josef Manes. At the top of the calendar, look for the lion and crab signs, for July and June. Just outside them are respectively grain reapers and haymakers.
Town Hall Clock, Prague. Manes. Seasonal Calendar, Town Hall, Prague. 19th century.

Manes. July and June, Seasonal Calendar, Town Hall, Prague. 19th century.  Manes. July and June, Seasonal Calendar, Town Hall, Prague. 19th century.

A few blocks away, murals with agricultural scenes, also by Josef Manes, incongruously cover the façade of a neo-Renaissance building that once housed the V J Rott iron-mongers’ business. The Rott building now houses crystal and jewelry stores. A man with a scythe and a woman with a rake reflect the familiar rustic gender themes. Finally, in the basement of the Prague Municipal Building, a treasure-house of early twentieth century murals and stained glass by Mucha and others, a mosaic by Jacub Obrovsky glows with the colors of a Bohemian harvest scene. Not it isn’t hay, but the man with the scythe justifies its presence here.

 Manes. Man with scythe, V J Rott Building, Prague. Manes. Woman with rake, V J Rott Building, Prague. Obrovsky. Harvest in Bohemia, Municipal Building, Prague. C. 1912.

Posted by Alan Ritch at 01:42 PM

September 20, 2007

Mowing at the Morgan Library 1.

Mowing motifs in months of Morgan manuscripts.

 Book of Hours, June [detail, M92]. 1225-49.The Morgan Library in New York City has one of the great medieval manuscript collections in the world. Within it is one of the world’s great collections of Books of Hours. And among their folios of illuminated calendars are dozens of illustrations of people, usually men, scything and sickling hay and grain harvests, accompanied, not in the fields but on the folios, by strange symbols that look like crabs or lobsters (cancer, the sign for June) or lions (Leo for July). The occupational and symbolic sequence is common enough that a quick trip on the Morgan’s outstanding online catalog “Corsair” (signifying the library of John Pierpont the capitalist or the Henry the pirate?), in search of “June occupations” discovers over 40 manuscripts with mowers in their medallions or margins.  Book of Hours, June [detail, M6]. 1475-85.French folios have mowing most often in June; and the Flemish, German and English folios, perhaps reflecting a more northerly haymaking season, have the scythe in the following month. Only once does the scythe, perhaps due to error or eccentricity, appear as late as August. The sickle, often with yellow grain crops, parallel stalks and more linear sheaves, is almost always on the folio following the scythe. Clearly the convention was for grain to follow hay in the agricultural and liturgical cycle. But a few cataloging lapses by the Morgan archivists have the scythe harvesting “grain,” perhaps trivial in their more lofty contexts, but significant in (H)ours.

I hope that my own virtual harvest of the manuscript paintings and their systematic stacking in the hayinart database will illuminate iconographic distinctions in style and content. I have arranged them below in three sections roughly corresponding to centuries and stylistic shifts: the first showing conformity to the image of a single, simplified figure in a pose which is almost ideographic; the second reflecting rudimentary landscape themes and an emerging use of perspective; and the third celebrating complex agricultural and social activity. Each example has a pair of illustrations: an image on the page among other decorations of the text and the same image in isolation. The captions, sources and dates can be found by passing your cursor over the image. I hope that these juxtapositions will illuminate both the variety and consistency of this theme. To view the originals in their manuscript contexts, I recommend a virtual visit to the Morgan Library’s own splendid site .

Book of  Hours, July [detail, M452]. 1525-40.

I have also interspersed, for comparison, a few famous Books of Hours, that somehow escaped the Morgan appetite for acquisition.

Mowing at the Morgan 1: 12th to 14th century scythes as simple symbols.

The earliest collection of seasonal activities in the Corsair catalog appears to be German, a 12th century Weingarten manuscript, in which the June occupation is hoeing. Scything hay is shown here on the July folio. The pose, scyther turning to the left, scythe pointing to the right, would be repeated, with varying degrees of stylization over the next two centuries.

 Hainricus Sacrista. Gradual, Sequentiary, and Sacramentary, July [M711]. 1225-1250. Hainricus Sacrista. Gradual, Sequentiary, and Sacramentary, July [M711 detail]. 1225-1250.

In this French Psalter from about 1230, the mowing scene is in June. The Morgan record falsely calls the scythe a sickle.
 Psalter, Hours, June [M153]. 1228-1234.Psalter, Hours, June [detail, M153]. 1228-1234.

In another June page from a French Psalter of the same period, from the Soissons Workshop, like the mowers above and below, this figure seems almost to be floating above the blade of his scythe.
 Psalter, June [M283]. 1229-46.Psalter, June [detail, M283]. 1229-46.

In this early thirteenth century Book of Hours, the June page shows a man with a scythe conforming to the earlier iconographic conventions of mowing hay, although the Morgan record, perhaps influenced by the simple regularity of the stalks, calls it grain.
Book of Hours, June [M92]. 1225-49. Book of Hours, June [detail, M92]. 1225-49.

A Flemish Psalter from mid thirteenth century Bruges has the scythe on the July page. The pose of the mower differs from its predecessors: the scythe is held higher to the left, and the figure stands, incongruously, in front of a gothic structure. August has a sickle being used on a much more regular crop, signifying grain. The June page before the one illustrated here shows a man carrying wood .
Psalter, Calendar, July [M106]. 1250-70.Psalter, Calendar, July [detail, M106]. 1250-70

In this late thirteenth century Dutch Psalter from Utrecht, June has someone picking flowers ; July, here, mowing hay; and August a sickle cutting grain.
 Psalter, Calendar, July [M113]. 1250-99. Psalter, Calendar, July [detail, M113]. 1250-99.

In the Grosbois Psalter, a Flemish manuscript from 1261, June's occupation is picking fruit . July has the scythe and August the sickle .
 Grosbois Psalter,  July [M440]. 1261.Grosbois Psalter,  July [detail, M440]. 1261.

Two French Psalters from the 1260s have the scythe in June. For the second, the Morgan has grain harvest, but the month and tool imply hay.
Psalter, Hours, July [M183]. 1275-94. Psalter, Hours, July [detail, M183]. 1275-94. Psalter, Hours, June [M97]. 1260s.Psalter, Hours, June [detail, M97]. 1260s.

In this Flemish Psalter, June's worker is picking flowers . The scythe, as usual, is on the July page, and August has the sickle .
Psalter, Hours, July [M183]. 1275-94.Psalter, Hours, July [detail, M183]. 1275-94.

In another Flemish Psalter from the 1270s probably done by the Tweede Groepe of Ghent, the June folio shows a man carrying wood. July has a man with a scythe in a Gothic architectural frame. His pose is innovative, facing to the right, but less dynamic than most of his contemporaries. August a man cutting grain with a sickle .
 Psalter, July [M72]. 1270s.Psalter, July [detail, M72]. 1270s.

Two late thirteenth century French manuscripts, the first a Psalter, the second a Breviary, both have scything as the June activity.
Psalter, Hours of Yolande de Soissons, June [M729]. 1275-99.  Psalter, Hours of Yolande de Soissons, June [detail, M729]. 1275-99. Breviary, June [M1042]. 1285-92. Breviary, June [detail, M1042]. 1285-92.

London is given as the probable source of the DuBois Book of Hours from the early fourteenth century. June, according to the Morgan caption, has a man weeding grass with a weed extractor ! The July folio has an uncomfortably posed, crudely painted man scything grass.
DuBois Hours, July [M700]. 1320-35.DuBois Hours, July [detail, M700]. 1320-35.

Two French manuscripts from the late fourteenth century show a man with a scythe in June. The medallions in which these figures are posed are identical in shape, but the backgrounds are very different, the first a geometric basket weave, the second a conventional field of grass against a fleur-de-lys pattern.
Breviary, June [M75]. 1350-74. Breviary, June [detail, M75]. 1350-74. Book of Hours, June [M264]. 1395-1400.Book of Hours, June [detail, M264]. 1395-1400.

Medieval Mowers beyond the Morgan.

A sampler of medieval mowers from beyond the Morgan Library, lacking, alas, the Morgan’s meticulous consistency, at least concerning date and authorship.

Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries.

The 11th century manuscript allegedly depicts October(!) farmers gathering hay with scythes and pitchforks. Supposedly in the British Library but no MS number is supplied at the source web-site . The 12th century English manuscript showing two men scything is in the Glasgow University Library .
Calendar for October, 11th century English manuscript.  Ms Hunter 229 f4r. 12th century.

Thirteenth century.

Two useful items were culled from godecookery , both tantalizingly lacking in reliable background information: a mower with his scythe: the month of June, from the Canterbury Calendar. c1280, MS Corpus Christi College 285; and an undated image with the erroneous caption “Harvesting Grain”. We claimed it for the hayinart corpus because of the raking woman and the scything man, but it is certainly much later than the other image, possibly from the 15th century.

June. From the Canterbury Calendar. c1280. Harvesting grain. No date. No source.

Posted by Alan Ritch at 09:43 PM | Comments (2062)

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 Sotriffer’s 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 Center’s 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 Eco’s 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 09:41 PM

Mowing at the Morgan Library 3.

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.
Breviary of Eleanor of Portugal, July [M52]. 1495-1515. Breviary of Eleanor of Portugal, July [detail, M52]. 1495-1515.

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.
 Hours of Henry VIII, June: Mowing [H8]. 1495-1505.  Hours of Henry VIII, June: Mowing [detail, H8]. 1495-1505.

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.
Book of Hours, June [M261]. 1495-1512. Book of Hours, June [detail, M261]. 1495-1512.

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.
Book of Hours, May and June [M7]. 1490s. Book of Hours, June [detail, M7]. 1490s.

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.
 Book of Hours, June [M250]. 1505-15.  Book of Hours, June [detail, M250]. 1505-15.

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.
Book of Hours, June [M85]. 1505-25. Book of Hours, June [detail, M85]. 1505-25.

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.
Book of Hours, August [M632]. 1515-25. Book of Hours, August [detail, M632]. 1515-25.

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.
Book of  Hours, July [M452]. 1525-40. Book of  Hours, July [detail, M452]. 1525-40.

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.
DaCosta Hours, July [M399]. 1510-20. DaCosta Hours, August [M399]. 1510-20.

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.
Book of  Hours, July [M451]. 1531. Book of  Hours, July [detail, M451]. 1531.

Medieval Mowers beyond the Morgan.

Sixteenth century.

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.
 Breviary. 1490-1510. June. Book of Hours. Spencer Collection Ms. 006. c1500.

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.
Leo, Spinola Hours. 1510-20.  Leo, Spinola Hours [detail]. 1510-20.

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.

July. Calendar Miniature. 1510-1525. Golf Book. Calendar scene for July. 1520-1530. Golf Book. Haycart. 1520-1530.

Posted by Alan Ritch at 09:36 PM