The Labours of the Months: November

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

Waken, lords and ladies gay, / On the mountain dawns the day; / All the jolly chase is here / With hawk and horse and hunting-spear; / Hounds are in their couples yelling, / Hawks are whistling, horns are knelling, / Merrily merrily mingle they, / ‘Waken, lords and ladies gay.’     /     Waken, lords and ladies gay, / The mist has left the mountain gray, / Springlets in the dawn are steaming, / Diamonds on the brake are gleaming; / And foresters have busy been / To track the buck in thicket green; / Now we come to chant our lay / ‘Waken, lords and ladies gay.’ …sings Sir Walter Scott with his Hunting Song… a fitting introduction for the new BLOG POST The Labours of the Months: November.

Referred to as Labours of the Months… portrayed on the pages of an illuminated manuscript, sculpted areas of a church or on panel paintings… are decorative images that feature a seasonal agricultural or pastoral activity appropriate and different for every month of the year. Such artworks, popular during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, were created all over Western Europe, from countries of the colder North to Italy, France, and Spain of the warmer South. Depending on the area or the era these “pastoral” compositions were created, they vary in what is presented and how.

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

The typical November Labour scene in a Northern European Calendar would be a composition depicting farmers gathering acorns for feeding their pigs. Not so in the Venetian November Labour panel in the Collection of the National Gallery in London… A young huntsman in a red cap and jacket, the Museum experts tell us, holds the leashes of his two hounds. He looks at his hawk, which perches on his hand. A hunting horn is tied from a cord at his waist… In other cycles of the labours of the months, the Museum experts continue, hawking and falconry are associated with courtly love and the months of April and May. For the London panel… hunting has been ascribed to November as a winter pursuit.

The National Gallery painting of November belongs to a group of 12 small painted panels that together decorated a set of painted Doors. These 12 paintings, very small in size, about 13.6 x 10.6 cm, were achieved in vivid, bright, luxurious colours, like ultramarine blue for the sky, strong vermilion and red lake for the clothing, with rich greens and yellows in the landscape. The restricted and repeated use of colour gives the group of little pictures a charming, decorative simplicity. All but one of the scenes show a man working outdoors on what appears to be the estate of a large villa, seen in several of the paintings, at the foot of the distant blue mountains. The small panel paintings in the National Gallery are rare and special. They document life in the Veneto area, with the peasant activities and duties to their land. They also depict a vivid landscape, romanticized even then, from bare and covered with snow, to rich and fertile, to autumnal, covered with fallen leaves.

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

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