The Medieval Calendar Year

Overview

The Medieval Calendar Year celebrates the pictorial convention known as "The Labors of the Months" and the ways it was used in the Middle Ages. Richly illustrated and elegantly presented, it provides valuable insights into prevailing social attitudes and values and will fascinate all readers who are interested in the history and culture of medieval Europe.

The "Labors" cycle was most popular during the High Middle Ages (ca. 1200–1500). The traditional cycle depicts the year as a...

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Overview

The Medieval Calendar Year celebrates the pictorial convention known as "The Labors of the Months" and the ways it was used in the Middle Ages. Richly illustrated and elegantly presented, it provides valuable insights into prevailing social attitudes and values and will fascinate all readers who are interested in the history and culture of medieval Europe.

The "Labors" cycle was most popular during the High Middle Ages (ca. 1200–1500). The traditional cycle depicts the year as a round of seasonal activities on the land. Each month has its allotted task, and each of these represents one stage in the never-ending process of providing food for society. The small scenes that made up the cycle were well-known and used widely throughout Europe. They were chosen to decorate both public and private spaces: churches and houses, town fountains, baptismal fonts, as well as books of devotion intended both for priests and for the laity. The cycle was sculpted in stone, carved in wood, painted on glass and on manuscript pages. Examples from such media are described, but most of the illustrations have been taken from manuscripts, primarily Books of Hours.

The author has spent the past fifteen years studying calendar after calendar, and one of her great strengths is her ability to see the social reality that lies hidden, even masked, behind the stylized presentation. In the chapter on winter, she shows how the image of this season, dreaded in the Middle Ages, was softened and sweetened by calendar artists to bring it more into harmony with the characteristic mood of the cycle as a whole. For autumn, she reveals how depictions of the harvest of grain, grapes, and livestock hint at a sophisticated market economy. Thematic chapters on children, women, and the hardship of work brilliantly cut through idealized conventions and assumptions to unveil the underlying complexities of life.

The "Labors" cycle and its social context have not hitherto been examined in depth and with the care they deserve. The Medieval Calendar Year is a book worthy of the beautiful and beguiling tradition it describes.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Calendars with appealing scenes or pictures are not an invention of Hallmark. Medieval calendar art routinely depicted seasonal themes, motifs, and the Zodiac. Henisch, the author of several books on photography and two books on medieval life, provides a study of the medieval themes of seasons and peasant lifestyle portrayed in the medieval calendars. Contemporary writings provide some insights into the medieval fascination for gardening and agriculture, as well as themes of leisure activities and feasting. The pastoral scenes and idyllic lifestyle of the poor peasants were hardly true to fact, however, as Henisch points out in his conversational but well-researched texts. The appendix of medieval calendar formats would have been more appropriate as an introduction. Recommended for larger collections. (Illustrations not seen.)--Karen Ellis, Baldwin Boettcher Lib., Humble, TX Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Henisch, an independent scholar, focuses on High Middle Ages renditions of the "Labors of the Months," a pictorial calendar convention that depicted the traditional cycle of the year revolving around seasonal activities on the land. She examines how artists chose to depict the cycle and the ways in which the conventions and assumptions of art styled the reality of agricultural drudgery into far prettier images. Fine color and b&w illustrations from manuscripts, particularly the Book of Hours. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780271019048
  • Publisher: Penn State University Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/1999
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Meet the Author

Bridget Ann Henisch is the author of Fast and Feast: Food in Medieval Society (1976) and the co-author, with Heinz K. Henisch, of Positive Pleasures: Early Photography and Humor (1998), The Painted Photograph, 1839–1914: Origins, Techniques, Aspirations (1996), The Photographic Experience, 1839–1914: Images and Attitudes (1994), all from Penn State.

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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
1 In Due Season 1
2 Winter; By the Fireside 29
3 Spring; The Private Garden 51
4 Summer; Sheep and Shepherds 85
5 Autumn; The Harvest 107
6 The Calendar Child 135
7 A Woman for All Seasons 167
8 Pain into Pleasure 197
App The Calendar Page Decoded 215
Selected Bibliography 223
Index 227
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