Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry
October Calendar Page
Around the turn of the fifteenth century, lay people seeking a simple and ordered devotional life began to adopt the monastic hours of prayer into their daily lives. This practice gave rise to the manuscript Book of Hours, from which we have taken this illustration. An abbreviated and fairly flexible form of the canonical breviary, the Book of Hours contained prayers, readings, and calendar pages that directed one’s devotional progress over the course of the changing seasons. This calendar page for October from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry opens a window onto the developing book form and its depictions of life in the late Middle Ages.
In a Book of Hours, each calendar page illustrates the labors of the given month, or, in this case, the alternating courtly pleasures and agricultural work of the month. October depicts a rustic scene, the sowing of winter wheat. At the top, an arch over the chariot of the sun contains the appropriate signs of the zodiac, Libra and Scorpio. Medieval man was more aware of the movement of the stars than we tend to be today, and the positions of the zodiac determined much of the farmer’s calendar. The church calendar, too, followed astronomical movement: Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Above the zodiac, the numbers and letters are a guide to the feast days and saints’ days of the month, and to the prayers and psalms of the day, an index for the use of the book.
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Mary Elizabeth Podles is the retired curator of Renaissance and Baroque art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She and her husband Leon, a Touchstone senior editor, have six children and live in Baltimore, Maryland.
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