The Labours of the Months: October

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

The young man in the new BLOG POST The Labours of the Months: October, seems startled… he gestures to something in front of him, and turns to look over his shoulder as if talking to someone outside the picture. He is sitting on a rock but appears to be about to start ploughing. “Make sure the lines are straight” his foreman calls “use the simple wood and metal plough I gave you, push it hard on the ground, move it to either side to make an open shallow furrow. Our patrone hasn’t decided yet what we will plant, but whatever it is, it will look nice in February…” and

This small painting is one of 12 small pictures that together show the ‘Labours of the Months’ – the activities that take place each month throughout the farming year. They were meant to decorate the recessed panels of a pair of doors, and seem to have been planned in pairs with the figures facing each other. This set of painted Doors combine simplicity in execution and extravagance in visual effect! The 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.

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

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. As a theme, it recurred in the sculptural decoration of cathedrals and churches across Europe, in illuminated manuscripts like the popular Books of Hours, palace frescoes and rarely, panel painting. The Trentino Fresco Panels at Torre Aquila 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

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

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