Wednesday, 1 November 2017

The Year in Medieval Art: November

For the people of the Middle Ages, November was the last month of "ordinary time," in which the affairs of the secular world were allowed to take precedence over spiritual concerns. Advent, a time of fasting and penitence, was approaching; a period during which blood ought not to be shed. November was, therefore, the month in which animals, especially pigs, were fattened (often on acorns, as they still are in some parts of Iberia) and slaughtered; the meat salted and smoked; products such as sausages, salami, pate, and black and white puddings made. These were skilled tasks, in many cases performed by women, and getting them right could, over the course of a harsh winter, make the difference between plenty and hardship, or even starvation. Fish, too, was salted, smoked, and pickled: together with cheese, it would be the staple diet throughout Advent, with its religious restrictions on the consumption of meat.

November, from Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 1485-6; Musee Conde, MS 65, F.11 v (image is in the Public Domain). The swineherd uses a stick to bring acorns down from the trees, in order to fatten the pigs.

Pigs in an oak wood in November, Strasbourg,c 1580 (image is in the Public Domain).

The slaughter of a pig (image is in the Public Domain).

The butchery of a pig (image is in the Public Domain).

There were also, in many cases, non-food crops to be processed: retted flax to be "swingled" (beaten with wooden paddles, to separate the fibres used to produce linen from the waste products of the crop; coppices (for the production of basketry, fencing, bows and arrows), maintained.

The swingling of retted flax (image is in the Public Domain).

With these tasks completed, and firewood gathered in, a Medieval community was ready to face the rigours of winter.

Calendar page for November, Morgan Library & Museum, M618, Fol.6r (image is in the Public Domain).

November and Sagittarius (image is in the Public Domain).

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

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