The Labours of the Months: July

By an unknown Venetian artist…
The Labours of the Months: July, about 1580, oil on canvas, 13.6 x 10.6 cm, National Gallery, London

As an introduction to my new BLOG POST The Labours of the Months: July, let’s read Sir Charles George Douglas Roberts’s poem on July… I am for the open meadows, / Open meadows full of sun, / Where the hot bee hugs the clover, / The hot breezes drop and run.    /    I am for the uncut hayfields / Open to the cloudless blue,— / For the wide unshadowed acres / Where the summer’s pomps renew;    /    Where the grass-tops gather purple, / Where the oxeye daisies thrive, / And the mendicants of summer / Laugh to feel themselves alive;    /    Where the hot scent steams and quivers, / Where the hot saps thrill and stir, / Where in leaf-cells’ green pavilions / Quaint artificers confer;    /    Where the bobolinks are merry, / Where the beetles bask and gleam, / Where above the powdered blossoms / Powdered moth-wings poise and dream;    /    Where the bead-eyed mice adventure / In the grass-roots green and dun. / Life is good and love is eager / In the playground of the sun!

The Labours of the Months had a role in highlighting authority and privilege, hard work, and occasionally, small, everyday pleasures. They are often perceived as a link between the work of man, the seasons of the year, and God’s ordering of the Universe. The Trentino Fresco Panels at Torre Aquila in Northern Italy for example, present trained and obedient peasants busy with their seasonal activities, but dominated by the local aristocracy who seem to only care for their idler activities. (I presented the eleven surviving Torre Aquila frescoes in 2020. Please check

Starting the 1st of January 2021 and for every month so far, we “take a trip” to the National Gallery in London and “study” a small picture (there are twelve such pictures), “painted on canvas and then… glued to a wooden panel. It is possible that (these twelve pictures) were made to decorate the recessed panels of a pair of doors! The paintings seem to have been planned in pairs with the figures facing each other and are currently displayed in two frames in groups of six. They show the ‘labours of the months’ – the rural activities that take place each month throughout the year.”

By an unknown Venetian artist…
The Labours of the Months: July (detail), about 1580, oil on canvas, 13.6 x 10.6 cm, National Gallery, London

For the Month of July, we have a copious outdoors scene. National Gallery experts believe that this small painting presents July and shows a man (as he) threshes grain from the corn husks and stalks of straw. He holds the corn on a wooden block and strikes it with his wooden flail. The weather is warm and the man is barefoot with no hat on his head. He is a little older than the labourers in the other pictures – some streaks of grey appear in his beard. The depicted man kneels outside a small brick building with an overhanging roof supported on two posts. Perhaps it is the same building in which the elderly man sits in the representation of January. At the foot of the blue mountains in the distance, we see a fine villa, to which this farmland perhaps belongs.

For a PowerPoint on The Labours of the Months at the National Gallery in London, please… Check HERE!

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