Sunday, 1 October 2017

The Year in Medieval Art: October

In some respects, the autumnal months of the Medieval year merge together: the harrowing and ploughing of fields; the sowing of seeds for vegetables; the harvesting and treading of grapes; continue from September into October. The agricultural cycle always depended on the weather: a crop could not be harvested until it had ripened, but needed to be gathered in before it was ruined by rain, frost or pests. In some regions, there were new crops to be harvested in October, including apples and pears.

October, from Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 1412-40, Musee Conde (image is in the Public Domain). The building in the background is the Medieval Chateau du Louvre.

October, from the Grimani Breviary, by Gerard Horenbout, 1510-19, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, Venice (image is in the Public Domain).

Calendar page for October, from the Hours of Joanna of Castile, c 1500. British Library Add.Ms 35313 (image is in the Public Domain).

The grape harvest in October, by Maestro Venceslau, late 14th/early 15th Century (image is in the Public Domain).

The apple harvest, from the Tacuinum Sanitatis, Naitonalbibliothek, Vienna (image is in the Public Domain).

October was often the month in which the more specialised and technical aspects of crop-processing took place. In wine producing areas, the grapes had to be pressed; the barrels sealed and stored for fermentation; the previous year's vintage assessed; wines blended and laid down to mature. In more northerly climates, grain had to be made into ale, and apples into cider.

The "Mystic Wine-Press," making an explicit link between crop-processing and the blood-sacrifice of Christ, from La Bible Moralisee, Provence, 1485-93.

A monastic cellarer assessing the vintage, from Li Livres do Sante, France, late 13th Century (image is in the Public Domain). 

A cooper sealing a barrel, from the Officium Beatae Mariae, Boulogne, 1385 (image is in the Public Domain).

A monastic brewer (image is in the Public Domain).

Herds of cattle, sheep, and goats, that had been grazed in upland pastures over the summer, were now brought back down into the valleys, the herdsmen bringing with them the new cheese, to be matured in cellars and caves.

"The Return of the Herd," by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (image is in the Public Domain).

The assessment of cattle, from the Da Costa Hours, by Simon Bening, c 1515, Morgan Library, New York (image is in the Public Domain). A farmer might slaughter a cow or bull in October, to provide a feast for his workers, and also to lay down reserves of salt-beef for the winter.

As the labours of the harvest drew to a close, the rhythms of the religious calendar began, once again, to assert themselves. The term "Allhallowtide" seems to have been used for the first time in 1471, but as far back as the early Eleventh Century, Abbot Odile, of the wealthy and powerful Benedictine house of Cluny (which had dependencies all across Europe), had set aside the end of October as a time of prayers for the dead: a reminder to everyone of the brevity of life; and a preparation for the penitence of Advent to come.

"The Triumph of Death," Church of Santa Maria Annunciata, Bienno, Italy. Photo: Luca Gianelli (CC-BY-SA 3.0).

Danse Macabre, by Berns Notke (1435-1509), Tallinn, Art Museum of Estonia 1255 (image is in the Public Domain).

Danse Macabre, by Vincent of Kastau, 1471, Church of Saint Mary, Beram, Croatia. Photo: Toffel (licensed under GNU).

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

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