The Fullness of Time: Temporalities of the Fifteenth-Century Low Countries

The Fullness of Time: Temporalities of the Fifteenth-Century Low Countries

by Matthew S. Champion


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The Fullness of Time: Temporalities of the Fifteenth-Century Low Countries by Matthew S. Champion

The Low Countries were at the heart of innovation in Europe in the fifteenth century. Throughout this period, the flourishing cultures of the Low Countries were also wrestling with time itself. The Fullness of Time explores that struggle, and the changing conceptions of temporality that it represented and embodied showing how they continue to influence historical narratives about the emergence of modernity today.
The Fullness of Time asks how the passage of time in the Low Countries was ordered by the rhythms of human action, from the musical life of a cathedral to the measurement of time by clocks and calendars, the work habits of a guildsman to the devotional practices of the laity and religious orders. Through a series of transdisciplinary case studies, it explores the multiple ways that objects, texts and music might themselves be said to engage with, imply, and unsettle time, shaping and forming the lives of the inhabitants of the fifteenth-century Low Countries. Champion reframes the ways historians have traditionally told the history of time, allowing us for the first time to understand the rich and varied interplay of temporalities in the period.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226514796
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 11/13/2017
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 1,276,380
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Matthew Champion is a lecturer in medieval history at Birkbeck, University of London.

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The Polyphony of Civic Time in Fifteenth-Century Leuven

Leuven, the university city on the river Dijle, entered the territories controlled by the Dukes of Burgundy in 1430 on the death of the Duke of Brabant Philip I (1404–1430). Brabant's principal ducal residence had moved from Leuven to Brussels in the thirteenth century. Despite this fall in political significance, Leuven prospered in the later thirteenth century, its new wealth generated by an expanding cloth industry famed for its quality linen. Its position on trade routes connecting the prosperous merchant cities of Flanders with the Rhine, and on pilgrimage routes from Germany and the northern Netherlands to Spain, meant that Leuven was well situated for trade throughout Europe. Following the waning of its cloth production, in the early fifteenth century Leuven waged a successful campaign to found a university. Founded in 1425–1426 by Pope Martin V (1368–1431) and John IV, Duke of Brabant (1403–1427), the university revitalized the town's economic life and its political importance. The foundation of new canonries in the city's churches to support academics, together with the arrival of beneficed academics, and the gradually increasing influx of foreign students, transformed the city's social and economic fabric.

This chapter interweaves analyses of systems of time measurement with examinations of social practices that ordered and shaped the perception of time in fifteenth-century Leuven. Several common motifs emerge. First, languages of the old and new, well established in medieval European cultures, were deployed to frame the dramatic transformations in the town's physical and intellectual life in the fifteenth century. Second, Leuven's transformation into this new fifteenth-century city involved a variety of symbolic arrangements of time in its devotional life. Third, as in all periods of history, the intersections of the natural rhythms of the year, its seasons, days, and nights, with organizations of labor, devotion, and leisure, led to a multiplicity of intersecting temporalities. Giving local form to broader European structures of time, Leuven's civic and ecclesiastical institutions addressed and formed these intersections in different ways, for example in liturgical calendars and rituals, through bell-ringing, and by regulating movement on the city's streets. Finally, I attempt to fuse measurements and organizations of time in the city with the actions and lives of some of Leuven's historical agents, to show some of the many ways in which time in Leuven was used and experienced by individuals as well as by particular groups.

The Old and the New

Alongside the new university, Leuven's built environment was transformed in the fifteenth century. At the heart of this renewal was the ambitious rebuilding of the old Romanesque church of St. Peter, the largest and most important of the city's churches, in the late Gothic style. Founded in the eleventh century, St. Peter's was originally the court church and burial place of the Landgraves of Brabant. Building continued throughout the fifteenth century, as the impressive new church became increasingly linked to the fledgling university. Yet as the old church gave way to the new, the Romanesque tower continued to stand as a sign of the church's continuity. Beyond St. Peter's, a new and impressive chapel was built for the Knights Hospitaller in 1454. A new Gothic transept was added to the collegiate church of St. James, and a tracery tower designed by Jan van Ruysbroeck was added to the Abbey church of St. Gertrude in the early 1450s (figure 1.1). South of the city center, building continued on the church of St. John the Baptist in the Great Beguinage Ten Hove from 1421 to 1468. The parish church of St. Quentin was rebuilt in the 1400s, with work continuing throughout the century. Later in the century, a new Carthusian house was founded, funded by wealthy merchants, their wives, university members, and the families of the first monks.

Renewal was evident, too, in the city's civic buildings. New administrative buildings were erected in the town's center, the most striking of which was the imposing Stadhuis, commenced around 1439. Work on the Voorste huis, the ornate late Gothic wing that faces St. Peter's, was completed from 1448 to 1469 by the master stonemason Matheuw de Layens. De Layens, who worked on St. Quentin's, St. James's, and St. Peter's, also undertook changes to the fourteenth-century Lakenhal, the former clothmaker's hall, which housed the university in its earliest years.

The new Leuven emerged from the old over the course of the fifteenth century alongside a flurry of cultural production and intellectual dispute over questions of time, particularly the relationship between the old and the new. New statues on the facade of the new Stadhuis, overlooking the Grote Markt, showed the harmony of the Old and New Law, emphasizing the role of cross-temporal, divinely sanctioned justice in civic life. Inside the Stadhuis, the pictorial program commissioned from the famous Leuven painter Dieric Bouts embodied the subjection of the historical time of the old to the future judgment when Christ would make all things new. Across the square, inside St. Peter's, in the chapel of the newly formed Confraternity of the Holy Sacrament, Bouts's altarpiece of the Holy Sacrament (plate 1) showed correspondences between Old Testament narratives and the institution of the new covenant at the Last Supper. The programs of the Stadhuis and the Bouts paintings were developed in consultation with university theologians. Efforts like these were not simply cases of "typology [being] in scholarly fashion." The iconographic programs gave historical authority to the new relationships between education and civic identity in the founding of Leuven's university. The structural divisions between the old and new embedded within the heart of medieval Christianity supported the political foundation of a new Leuven, grounded in the authoritative teaching of divine law.

The grounding of the new in the old required careful management of continuity and change. Jan Varenacker (d. 1475), professor of theology at the university, and one of two theologians who advised on Bouts's altarpiece, engaged with these issues in a quodlibetal question on natural, divine, and human law at the university in 1456. Varenacker stressed the preservation of the immutable sovereignty of divine and natural law, while also accepting that human behavior and law requires modification depending on variations of time and place. Drawing on a well-established legal hermeneutic, Varenacker's quodlibetal question thus carved out an intellectual space where the borders of change and stability, mutability and eternity, old and new, could be maintained. This attention to the management of time arises repeatedly in the work of the Leuven theologians active in the mid-fifteenth century. It perhaps shaped, and was shaped by, their specific interests in the epistles of the New Testament with their detailed elaborations of languages of the old and new.

Harmonizing the old and new had particular practical importance for the clergy of St. Peter's. In 1443, as part of the new university, Eugenius IV instituted a second chapter of ten canons, in addition to the existing chapter of fifteen. The new chapter comprised two professors each in theology, canon law, civil law, and medicine, and one professor each in Christian doctrine and logic. In order to protect their ancient rights against this new chapter, the existing canons drafted a Concordia inter novos et antiquos canonicos (A Concordat between the New and Old Canons). Here, as in Varenacker's quodlibet, the new was something to be regulated with care. But unlike in the quodlibet, the antiqui outrank the novi. Acknowledging their roles in the university, the Concordia stipulates that members of the new chapter do not have to be in the choir except for feasts of triplex rank, when they must attend matins, mass, and vespers. In exchange for this dispensation, they had to pay 70 Rhenish florins a year to remunerate other singers. The new canons were not eligible to elect or be elected as the church's Dean. The Dean had responsibility for both chapters, mirroring the symbolic role of Christ in uniting the old and new law. So that the Dean could exercise this oversight, the two chapters were not allowed to meet concurrently. The Concordia thus laid out a careful framework within which the time of the new did not overrun the time of the old.

The Wheel of Time: Guilds, Labor, Economy, and the Seasons

Leuven's time was intricately connected with the life of its guilds, which, as in other medieval towns, exerted powerful influences over the rhythms of life. Figures for the number of guild masters across Leuven in the fifteenth century show the large numbers of workers associated with cloth production and weaving in the city, as well as the importance of the blacksmiths', bakers', and metalworkers' guilds. Guilds shaped the rhythms of time for individuals and their families involved in various trades: the length of workdays; the rhythms of markets; the educational cursus; the time before an apprentice or journeyman became a guild master. Questions of membership had consequences for other social measures of time, like the age of marriage. Guild time intersected with liturgical time through statutes for the mandatory attendance of guild members at the feasts of the guild's patron saints. For example, the fifteenth-century statutes from the blacksmiths' guild include a requirement to attend mass on St. Eligius's Day. Guild members participated, too, in cycles of ritual time, playing a central role in the town's most important processions.

Each profession had its own structures of time. A blacksmith, a member of the largest of Leuven's guilds in 1477, in the morning would light the forge fire; the time taken for the fire to reach the correct temperature before work could begin had to be calculated and managed. How long did iron take to heat until it could be worked? How long could a piece of red-hot metal be worked until it grew dull and was no longer malleable? These measurements of "task-oriented" time were worked into bodily memory in the repeated patterns of work over time, and associated with particular places, objects, sounds, sights, and smells — indeed, the whole panoply of bodily habits. These rhythms of work were matched by rhythms in custom linked to the time of day, calendar year, and seasons. During the day, rhythms of work and rest followed the patterns of eating and trade. At the end of the day, work had to be finished, the fire put out for the safety of the city, the forge secured. Kinds of work shifted with the changing of the seasons and the cycles of the towns' markets. From the knowledge of the temporal rhythms of the smallest of tasks to predicting fluctuations in custom over the year, blacksmiths not only worked with metal, they worked with time.

A sense of the normal expectations of seasonal shifts in work hours and rest times can be gained from an outline of work times for laborers in Brussels in the early sixteenth century, the Coustumes ordinaires d'aller en l'ouvraige, tant en yver que en estés, desquelles l'on uze à Bruxelles et ens aultres villes de Brabant. Each workday was supposed to include a standard break for eating between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. At the height of winter, in the days following Epiphany, work was scheduled to commence at 7 a.m. and finish at 5 p.m.; following February 1, work lasted from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; following February 22, it extended from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.; from March 18, from 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; from April 10, from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., with an additional pause of half an hour permitted before and after the midday pause; from May 1 to September 1, work could commence at 4:30 a.m. and finish at 7 p.m., with two hours' additional rest, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. From September, the length of the workday decreased: from September 1 to 21, from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m.; after September 21 to October 13, from 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.; after October 13, from 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; then after October 29, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and finally from St. Martin's Day (November 11) to Epiphany, from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. On fast days, the length of time for eating and rest from work was extended to two hours. The lengthening of the days was thus balanced in part by the addition of further periods of rest, and the longest period of stable time in the year was the lengthy spring and summer period between May 1 and September 1. We can see too how work time involved precise timetables, structured periods for food and rest, and distinctions grounded in sacred time.

The large number of guild masters for the weavers', fullers', and carpet- and linen-weavers' guilds alerts us to the continued importance of rhythms of cloth production in shaping the city's time, despite the decline of the industry. Each piece of cloth had its own time, from the seasonal rhythms of agricultural production to the time of the market, and as it worked its way through myriad production processes, each with its own duration and rhythm, including wool preparation, combing or carding, spinning, weaving, fulling, tentering, napping, shearing, pressing, and dyeing. After the cloth was finished, its transport and sale was organized in relation to the calendars of Leuven's markets and other trade fairs across Europe. The tasks of the cloth industry intersected with other temporal regimes in the city. Work was controlled by bells signaling the beginning and end of the workday, which for weavers could be extended in winter from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. with artificial lighting. In an important recent article, Peter Stabel has shown that across the region normal bans on work at night could also be flexible, allowing for the completion of time-sensitive tasks, or to finish work on time for particular masters and merchants. Throughout the urban networks of the Low Countries, labor markets developed where journeymen could be hired for specific lengths of time, and paid according to daily or timed wages. Work time intersected with liturgical time too. Stabel traces regulations from a variety of towns in the Low Countries where work was scheduled to cease at noon before Sundays and a limited number of feast days, though, again, exceptions could be made.

Task-oriented time was also marked by variation on the basis of the stage in the production process and the type and quality of product. For example, John Munro has shown that guild codes for the production of Leuven's woolens involved different times devoted to the process of napping and shearing: in one example, for "Vier Bellen, made from domestic wools" there were to be "fourteen nappings over 14 hours"; for "Laken van Vijf Loyen" made from "good" foreign wool, "eighteen nappings over 18 hours"; and for "Raemlaken van Vijf Looden," made from "'fine' English wools," "fifteen nappings over 22 ½ hours." The fulling process, designed to shrink and bind the cloth before finishing, lasted longer for luxury woolens than for cheaper cloth: for standard sizes, Munro allows "two full-time journeymen and the supervision of a master fuller for three to five days, depending on the cloth type and the season." Seasonal rhythms also affected the process of stretching the cloth on tenterhooks. The time it took to undertake particular processes could also have particular implications for wages, where wages were paid not by a measure of time worked, but by piece. Beyond the variations of wages, products, and seasons, the level of social control over work time differed according to different stages in the production process. Guilds increasingly asserted power over work timetables for some parts of the process, particularly weaving. Other processes, like the preparation of wool, often undertaken by women, remained without strict regulation. For women like Leuven's beguines, devout women who arranged their time between work and prayer, time spent in cloth production slotted around the liturgical hours and the celebration of mass. We see here how different groups of cloth workers, and different social groups more generally, could inhabit diverse, changing, and intersecting structures of time sanctioned by different authorities and formed by different practices.


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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: The Polyphony of Civic Time in Fifteenth-Century Leuven
Chapter 2: The Altarpiece of the Holy Sacrament: Making Time in Leuven’s St. Peter’s Church
Chapter 3: Music, Time, and Devotion: Emotional Narratives at the Cathedral of Cambrai
Chapter 4: The Advent of the Lamb: Unfolding History and Liturgy in Fifteenth-Century Ghent
Chapter 5: Calendars and Chronology: Temporal Devotion in Fifteenth-Century Leuven
Chapter 6: Time for the Fasciculus temporum: Time, Text, and Vision in Early Print Culture

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