Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife

Jan Van Eyck, b. before 1395 – d. 1441
Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife, 1434, Oil on oak, 82 x 60 cm, National Gallery, London https://www.thehistoryofart.org/jan-van-eyck/arnolfini-wedding/

When the time comes for me to introduce my students to Jan van Eyck’s Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife,  I start with his flamboyant signature, Johannes de Eyck fuit hic. 1434 – Jan van Eyck was here. 1434, inscribed immediately above the mirror on the portrait’s background wall. Unpretentious words… but how artfully do they draw attention to his extraordinary skills as a painter and a storyteller! https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/jan-van-eyck-portrait-of-a-man-self-portrait

Jan Van Eyck, b. before 1395 – d. 1441
Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife (detail of inscription), 1434, Oil on oak, 82 x 60 cm, National Gallery, London
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Arnolfini_Portrait,_d%C3%A9tail_(6).jpg

Then, I am in trouble… I look at my students and I am flooded with questions, I do not have the precise answers. Is this exactly the reason why the Arnolfini Portrait is so attractive? How do I proceed?

“Jan van Eyck is credited with originating a style of painting characterized by minutely realistic depictions of surface effects and natural light. This was made possible by using an oil medium, which allowed the building up of paint in translucent layers, or glazes.” These two sentences by the National Gallery in London embody the essence of van Eyck’s painting style and technique. I like to read them to my students emphasizing his contribution to Western European Art. Information about his training and his life is scarce, we do know, however, that he was a member of the gentry class and that by 1425 he lived at Bruges and Lille as a court painter to Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. We also know that in 1428 he traveled to Portugal to paint Philip the Good’s future wife, Isabella of Portugal.     https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/artists/jan-van-eyck

I still hesitate… and start with the background, the decorative details, the room itself! Easier to say than do…

Jan Van Eyck, b. before 1395 – d. 1441
Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife (upper half), 1434, Oil on oak, 82 x 60 cm, National Gallery, London https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/the-arnolfini-portrait/

First impressions… This seems to be a luxurious room in a house of brick, lit up by a window that opens onto a garden with a cherry tree, glimpsed through the open shutters. Colourful light comes in through the glass window at the top, with clear bulls-eye pieces set in blue, red, and green stained glass. What an amazing display of wealth and “hidden symbolisms”…  

Let’s start with the impressive, bronze chandelier, that has one lit candle, which represents the seeing eye of God. Consider the mirror, decorated with scenes from the Passion of Christ, unblemished so as to symbolize the piety of Mary, the Mother of God. The wooden sandals… could they imply a “sacred” ground, or are they another evidence of incredible wealth? Could the small dog between the couple symbolize marital fidelity? Last but not least… the figure of St. Margaret carved on the finial of the big chair by the bed is the patron saint of pregnancy and childbirth, while the cherry tree painted outside the window is a symbol of love! https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/jan-van-eyck-the-arnolfini-portrait and https://www.artstor.org/2017/06/06/the-many-questions-surrounding-jan-van-eycks-arnolfini-portrait/

Jan Van Eyck, b. before 1395 – d. 1441
Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife (details of the dog and St. Margaret), 1434, Oil on oak, 82 x 60 cm, National Gallery, London
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnolfini_Portrait#/media/File:Jan_van_Eyck_009.jpg
https://oeuvremagazinecom.wordpress.com/2017/05/03/the-symbolic-meaning-of-the-arnolfini-wedding/

The Arnolfini room is full of smaller or bigger luxuries. The bed, for example, covered with expensive red woolen cloth dominates the scene along with ornately carved furniture, covered with red cushions and fabric. An intricately woven Oriental rug on the floor, oranges by the window, and beautiful rosary beads hanging next to the mirror… are all signifiers of great wealth in 15th century Belgium. https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/jan-van-eyck-the-arnolfini-portrait and https://www.artstor.org/2017/06/06/the-many-questions-surrounding-jan-van-eycks-arnolfini-portrait/

The difficult questions must be addressed… Who are the people in this luxurious, very personal setting? So many questions… and so many diverse answers!

Jan Van Eyck, b. before 1395 – d. 1441
Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife (portraits), 1434, Oil on oak, 82 x 60 cm, National Gallery, London
https://www.artble.com/imgs/b/9/e/222687/249875.jpg and https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/the-arnolfini-portrait/

They are clearly, according to the National Gallery in London, husband, and wife, and for many years the painting was understood as representing a marriage ceremony, though not anymore. From early on the painting was identified as showing one ‘Hernoul le Fin’ or ‘Arnoult Fin’. The most likely candidate is Giovanni di Nicolao di Arnolfini, known as Giannino or Jehannin, who would have been in his late thirties in 1434. The lady is probably his second wife, whose identity is unknown. The large round mirror that hangs right in the centre of the composition is stunning! Its convex glass shows not just the compressed and contorted room but also two men coming in through a door behind us. Immediately above the mirror is the flamboyant signature: Johannes de Eyck fuit hic. 1434 (‘Jan van Eyck was here. 1434’). Are the two men in the mirror Jan van Eyck, in a red turban, and his servant, arriving on a visit? https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/jan-van-eyck-the-arnolfini-portrait

Jan Van Eyck, b. before 1395 – d. 1441
Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife (detail of mirror), 1434, Oil on oak, 82 x 60 cm, National Gallery, London
https://el.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/%CE%91%CF%81%CF%87%CE%B5%CE%AF%CE%BF:The_Arnolfini_Portrait,_d%C3%A9tail_%282%29.jpg

So many questions…

For a Student WRAP Activity on the Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife, please… Check HERE!

An informative Video (3:59 min) presentation of the Arnolfini Portrait prepared by the National Gallery in London… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wM6d9BOj4Ww

If you want to explore the Bibliography on the Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife… start with: Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, by Erwin Panofsky, The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 64, No. 372 (Mar. 1934), pp. 117-119+122-127 (9 pages) https://www.jstor.org/stable/865802

Simon Bening’s September

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book September (f. 26v and f. 27r),c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/10/

Andrew Lang (1844-1912) is a famous Scottish poet who wrote a Ballade dedicated to the Royal Game of Golf…There are laddies will drive ye a ba’ / To the burn frae the farthermost tee, / But ye mauna think driving is a’, / Ye may heel her, and send her ajee, / Ye may land in the sand or the sea; / And ye’re dune, sir, ye’re no worth a preen, / Tak’ the word that an auld man’ll gie, / Tak’ aye tent to be up on the green! Simon Bening (d. 1561) is an equally celebrated Flemish artist who dedicated a manuscript illumination, f. 27r dedicated to the month of September, to the popular game of “Golf.” Let’s see what Simon Bening’s September page all is about! https://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poem/ballade-royal-game-golf/

Part of a very unique and special manuscript in the Collection of the British Library, known as the Golf Book, are two pages (f. 26v and f. 27r), dedicated to the month of September. Simon Bening, the manuscript’s illuminator, created two very different scenes. Folio  26v, for example, depicts typical agricultural activities of September like ploughing, sowing, and harrowing. Folio 27r, on the other hand, is about sports, specifically about men playing a game that closely resembles golf (hence the name given to this manuscript, the Golf Book). https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/10/

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, September (Detail f. 27r), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=add_ms_24098_fs001r

As the British Library experts support… golf is not to everyone’s taste. Mark Twain, they explain, is accredited with describing the game as “a good walk spoiled”; and, like many sports, it’s arguably better fun to play, Twain believed, than to watch. So, what is the fuss with the game of “Golf” depicted in Folio 27r of the 16th century Flemish Manuscript splendidly illuminated in the city of Bruges by Simon Bening? https://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2013/05/a-good-walk-spoiled.html?_ga=2.181798823.1064566353.1657532469-1622143414.1655957049

At first sight, the British Library experts continue, we can certainly deduce that this game does resemble golf, even down to the cloth caps that some of the competitors are wearing. Simon Bening presents a fenced field, four competitors, three of which hold curled sticks, reminiscent of modern golf clubs, and three “golf” balls. Could the man that wears a green cloak, depicted gesticulating to his companion, be what we now call a caddie? Could the fifth man presented in the middle ground be a “golf” fan waiting at the door of the nineteenth hole for a round of beer? We will probably never know. For modern golf players the stance of the player on the right, in the orange-red jerkin, is all wrong as modern golfers play the game on their feet, rather than on their knees, both to get a better purchase on the ball and for better balance. Simon Bening presents us with a wonderful scene of a 16th-century golf-like game played with curled sticks and a leather ball. Could this be an early form of modern Golf? We will probably never know. https://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2013/05/a-good-walk-spoiled.html?_ga=2.181798823.1064566353.1657532469-1622143414.1655957049

For a PowerPoint on the  Golf Book, please… Check HERE!

The Fall of Icarus

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, attributed, 1526/1530–1569
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, circa 1558, oil on canvas mounted on wood, 73.5×112 cm, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_Bruegel_de_Oude_-_De_val_van_Icarus.jpg

The ancient Greek Myth of Icarus has endured not only in visual but in literary arts as well! The Fall of Icarus attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder(According to the museum: “It is doubtful the execution is by Bruegel the Elder, but the composition can be said with certainty to be his”) is a fine example of how the Visual and the Literary Arts complement each other! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landscape_with_the_Fall_of_Icarus

The myth of Icarus’s Fall is magnificently told by Ovid in Book VIII: 183-235 of his Metamorphoses… When Daedalus had put the last touches to what he had begun, the artificer balanced his own body between the two wings and hovered in the moving air. He instructed the boy as well, saying ‘Let me warn you, Icarus, to take the middle way, in case the moisture weighs down your wings, if you fly too low, or if you go too high, the sun scorches them. Travel between the extremes. And I order you not to aim towards Bootes, the Herdsman, or Helice, the Great Bear, or towards the drawn sword of Orion: take the course I show you!’ At the same time as he laid down the rules of flight, he fitted the newly created wings on the boy’s shoulders. While he worked and issued his warnings the aging man’s cheeks were wet with tears: the father’s hands trembled… but the boy did not listen… he began to delight in his daring flight, and abandoning his guide, drawn by desire for the heavens, soared higher… and disaster stroke! https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/Metamorph8.php#anchor_Toc64106497

The iconic painting of the Fall of Icarus in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium is an amazing World Landscape, a type of composition depicting an imaginary panoramic landscape seen from an elevated viewpoint that includes mountains and lowlands, water, and buildings. At first glance, it is not easy to notice the spot where Icarus fell. All the artist painted is a pair of legs kicking in the sea next to the big ship on the right side of the composition. The depicted plowman carries on with his task while the shepherd seems unaware of the event, gazing into the air, away from the ship. Could the artist present the Flemish proverb… And the farmer continued to plough… pointing out the ignorance of people of fellow men’s suffering? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_landscape and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landscape_with_the_Fall_of_Icarus

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, attributed, 1526/1530–1569
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (detail of Icarus), circa 1558, oil on canvas mounted on wood, 73.5×112 cm, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium  https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0b/Pieter_bruegel_il_vecchio%2C_caduta_di_icaro%2C_1558_circa_07.JPG
Pieter Brueghel the Elder, attributed, 1526/1530–1569
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (detail of the boat), circa 1558, oil on canvas mounted on wood, 73.5×112 cm, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium 
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_bruegel_il_vecchio,_caduta_di_icaro,_1558_circa_06_nave.JPG

The Fall of Icarus attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder inspired the acclaimed poet of the Imagist movement, William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) to write… According to Brueghel / when Icarus fell / it was spring     /     a farmer was ploughing / his field / the whole pageantry     /     of the year was / awake tingling / near     /     the edge of the sea / concerned / with itself     /     sweating in the sun / that melted / the wings’ wax     /     unsignificantly / off the coast / there was     /     a splash quite unnoticed / this was / Icarus drowning…  https://poets.org/poem/landscape-fall-icarus

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, attributed, 1526/1530–1569
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (detail of the city), circa 1558, oil on canvas mounted on wood, 73.5×112 cm, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium  https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/painting-of-the-week-pieter-bruegel-the-elder-landscape-with-the-fall-of-icarus/

It inspired, the British-American poet, Wystan Hugh Auden, as well, who writes …In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away / Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may / Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, / But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone / As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green / Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen / Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, / Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on. http://english.emory.edu/classes/paintings&poems/auden.html

Amazing!

For a Student Activity on The Fall of Icarus, a painting in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium and the poem Lines on Brueghel’s “Icarus” by Michael Peter Leopold Hamburger (1924-2007) inspired by the painting, please… Check HERE!

An interesting Video, prepared by Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium and presented by Christine Ayoub on The proverbs in Pieter Bruegel’s “Fall of Icarus” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duf0knJ7CXI

Christine Ayoub, a guide at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, presents another interesting Video, reading an extract from Ovid’s Metamorphoses featuring the tale of the Fall of Icarus.  https://artsandculture.google.com/story/ewUxXpmuNdcLJg

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, attributed, 1526/1530–1569
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (detail of the sun), circa 1558, oil on canvas mounted on wood, 73.5×112 cm, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium  https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/painting-of-the-week-pieter-bruegel-the-elder-landscape-with-the-fall-of-icarus/

Simon Bening’s August

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, August (f. 25v),c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/10/

Like liquid gold the wheat field lies, / A marvel of yellow and russet and green, / That ripples and runs, that floats and flies, / With the subtle shadows, the change, the sheen… writes American poet Hannibal Hamlin Garland, and Simon Bening’s August scene comes to my mind… a scene of wheat fields like liquid gold and green countryside full of subtle shadows, change, and sheenhttps://sites.google.com/site/rainydaypoems/poems-for-kids/poems-teachers-ask-for/color-in-the-wheat-by-hamlin-garland

Simon Bening is a master manuscript illuminator. Hailed by Portuguese art critic and artist, Francisco da Hollanda as the greatest master of illumination in all of Europe, Simon Bening was one of the most celebrated painters of Flanders in the 1500s. He served powerful aristocrats and worked for a group of international royal patrons including Emperor Charles V and Don Fernando, the Infante of Portugal. He is famous for creating some of the finest illuminated Books of Hours in the history of art. His specialty was painting, in the Flemish tradition, poetic landscape vistas… just like the August scene in the famous Golf Book! https://www.getty.edu/art/collection/person/103JTN

The Month of August full-page miniature (f. 25v) is dedicated to distinct aspects of peasant occupations in the month of August. It is divided into three parts, the lower right one, leading the composition. Prominently posed, a pair of field hands are taking a break, their tools of labor lying on the ground, happily munching on some kind of food… waiting for more! A young woman is approaching them with a basket of more food balancing on top of her head, and a heavy, large carafe of a beverage held by her right hand. Behind a low fence made of wicker canes woven around stakes driven into the ground, a second peasant is still working hard in the field… bent, scythe in hand, cutting wheat.

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, August (Details, f. 25v), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=add_ms_24098_fs001r

The left part of the composition is my favorite! Separated by a canal or river with swimming swans and a small bridge, Bening painted a country path along a hedged country estate of lush greenery. This is what the artist was famous for… images of unique landscapes in delicate brushwork and an extravaganza of green tints and shades. Never to forget that this is a composition dedicated to harvesting, Bening painted a path with a horse-drawn cart loaded with sheaves of straw going along it. https://www.moleiro.com/en/books-of-hours/the-golf-book-book-of-hours/miniatura/500e65cc826a5

The third, back part of Bening’s August page, is fully dedicated to Bening’s August theme… harvest, and the lush countryside. A fortress-like, gated area, equally plush and verdant, with an impressive church to the right, dominates the scene. In front of it, was another field of yellow, willowy wheat, and a peasant hard in harvesting. In the very distant, blue cloudless skies… the majesty of nature at its best…

For a PowerPoint on the  Golf Book, please… Check HERE!

For a Student Activity on Simon Bening’s July page, please… Check HERE!

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, August (f. 25v and 26r),c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/10/

Simon Bening’s July

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, July (f. 24v),c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/10/

Simon Bening’s July page presents, in painting, the ancient sport of falconry clearly, with elegance and poise… Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), with his poem Falconry, wonders, and questions A prince survives by unseen acts. / At night the chief advisor knocked / at Frederick’s workroom in the tower / and found him formulating facts / for treatises on wingèd power / while his penman turned out text.     /     It was in this aerie room / he’d walked all night with her on arm, / turbulent and barely fledged. / Whatever plans then sprang to mind, / whatever fondness deeply chimed / in recollection he would trash / and tend the frightened and impassioned / thing he wished to understand. / Every night he made a time / for nothing but the young unhandled / animal. It was her staring / inborn mind he’d worked to learn,     /     so he was lofted with her grace / when she, the bird that nobles praise, / thrown gleaming from his hand (her wingbeats raised / into the heartfelt morning air) / and diving like an angel struck the hernhttps://allpoetry.com/Falconry

The Book of Golf pages dedicated to the summer month of July present interesting events in the life of the Flemish Renaissance aristocracy and farming class.  The main full-page miniature painting (f. 24v) is dedicated to a popular aristocratic sport, that of hunting with falcons. The miniature, on the other hand, of folio 25recto given to July, is dedicated to farm work, particularly the transportation of hay with a cart. Interestingly, the background painting of folio 24verso is also reserved for farm work. It shows haymakers mowing a lush, green field. http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/FullDisplay.aspx?ref=Add_MS_24098

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, July (Details, f. 24v and f. 25r), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=add_ms_24098_fs001r
Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, July (Details, f. 24v), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=add_ms_24098_fs001r

A nobleman on horseback is the main character in folio 24v of Bening’s Book of Golf. He is depicted with all the characteristics of a Flemish aristocrat. He wears a blue tunic with a square neckline, a high-necked, buttoned shirt underneath, and a noticeable gold chain around his neck. A feathered grey hat stylishly adorns his auburn features. A glove covers his right hand, and a falcon, possibly a peregrine falcon, is perched on the (metal glove) on his left hand. Finally, the aristocrat in Bening’s July page wears full-length hose and ankle boots. He is portrayed mounted on an equally imposing dark-grey stallion practicing falconry, the favourite pastime of the aristocracy.  All signs of nobility are present… elegant, and expensive attire, a beautiful horse, and the sport of falconry… here are the status symbols of high social, moral, and financial standing. If this is not enough… the pictured aristocrat is accompanied by two servants carrying falcon’s perches (tall staffs covered in soft fabric for birds to rest upon and for beating bushes and trees to make prey take flight) and also a hooded peregrine falcon and goshawk. https://www.moleiro.com/en/books-of-hours/the-golf-book-book-of-hours/miniatura/5034926fa3d32

I live my life in widening circles / that reach out across the world. / I may not complete this last one / but I give myself to it.     /     I circle around God, around the primordial tower. / I’ve been circling for thousands of years / and I still don’t know: am I a falcon, / a storm, or a great song? Wonders Rainer Maria Rilke once more… https://onbeing.org/poetry/widening-circles/

For a PowerPoint on the  Golf Book, please… Check HERE!

For a Student Activity on Simon Bening’s July page, please… Check HERE!

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, July (f. 24v and 25r),c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/10/

Simon Bening’s June

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, June (f. 23v),c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/11/

Simon Bening’s June presentation is part of an amazing, illuminated manuscript of the 16th century. It presents the quintessential games of chivalry… and I think of Gauvain Micaille, the gallant Frenchman squire from Beauce, a gentleman of tried courage, who had advanced himself by his own merit, without any assistance from others… Is there among you any gentleman who for the love of his lady is willing to try with me some feat of arms? He questions… If there should be any such, here I am, quite ready to sally forth completely armed and mounted, to tilt three courses with the lance, to give three blows with the battle-ax, and three strokes with the dagger. Now look, you English, if there be none among you in love… he continues, and he jousts for the honour of France showing his courage and bravery… an extraordinary man, a wonderful story, and a brilliant manuscript illumination by Simon Bening! https://uts.nipissingu.ca/muhlberger/FROISSART/GAUVAIN.HTM

Unhorse Your Foe! people cried… and off “they” went to “battle.” “They” were armored knights striding armored horses who tested their skills in mock combats, called “tournaments.” These games were a way for them to practice for battle in between wars, and display their talents in front of a broad audience… writes Rachel Smith, of the MET in New York. The June page of the Book of Golf (f. 23v) displays a perfect tournament day in a Flemish city. https://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/metkids/2019/knights-tournaments-medieval-europe and https://www.moleiro.com/en/books-of-hours/the-golf-book-book-of-hours/miniatura/161

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, June (Details, f. 23v and f. 24r), c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=add_ms_24098_fs001r

Simon Bening, combining cool, greys and blues, and warm tones of ochre and red, organized a “busy” three-parts composition. The background presents a Flemish city with impressive buildings and the tournament audience, in great numbers, enthusiastically looking at the event through windows, standing behind parapets, seated on tall parapets,  or sitting in the “royal box.” They seem to be finely dressed and adorned with elaborate headdresses, talking to each other, full of excitement… maybe contemplating, even debating whom they are going to favor!

The Knights, fully armored and crowned with striking plumes are depicted riding their equally remarkably armored horses. They “fight” for victory. Their goal is to show gallantry and honour… their hope is to attract the attention of “their” Lady and get a token of her favor… a veil, a ribbon, maybe a wreath!

The “busiest” part is definitely the foreground of Bening’s composition. Attended by their servants are two knights on their mounts attempting to strike the other down with their swords. Their broken lances lie on the ground. A mounted herald on the left sounds a small trumpet, whilst two armed riders on the right wait their turn to fight. https://www.moleiro.com/en/books-of-hours/the-golf-book-book-of-hours/miniatura/161

The middle ground area of June’s composition is where Jousting takes place. Simon Benning depicts two knights on either side of a palisade, ready for the tournament “game” to commence! They wear a full-length armor made of thin, sliding steel plates, over a velvet garment, a helmet, finished with plumes, and carry their battling lance. According to the Wikipedia… Jousting is a martial game or hastilude between two horsemen wielding lances with blunted tips, often as part of a tournament. The primary aim was to replicate a clash of heavy cavalry, with each participant trying hard to strike the opponent while riding towards him at high speed, breaking the lance on the opponent’s shield or jousting armor if possible, or unhorsing him. The joust became an iconic characteristic of the knight in Romantic medievalism. The participants experience close to three and a quarter times their body weight in G-forces when the lances collide with their armor.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jousting#CITEREFColtman1919

For a PowerPoint on the  Golf Book, please… Check HERE!

For information on the art of the armorer, and how arms and armor, are pivotal not only in conquest and defense but also in court pageantry and ceremonial events like tournaments… Check the Metropolitan Museum site… https://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-met/collection-areas/arms-and-armor

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, June (f. 23v and 24r),c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/11/

Simon Bening’s May

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, May (f. 22v),c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/11/

The American children’s poet Annette Wynne introduces us to charming spring with… May / Has such a winsome way, / Loves to love and laugh and play, / To be pretty all the day, / Never loves to sulk and frown, / As April does; when rain comes down, / May is sorry, says: “Rain, please / Go away soon, flowers and trees / Love the merry shining sun, / Want to laugh now, every one, / For the happy time’s begun.” / All you people who love play, / Love to love the livelong day, / Do you not love May / With her winsome way? The artist of the Golf Book, one of the finest manuscript illuminators of the Northern Renaissance introduces us to the month of May with an amazing miniature… Let’s celebrate with Simon Bening’s May…a day of boating, merriment, and joy! https://discoverpoetry.com/poems/may-poems/

Folio 22v of the Golf Book, showing the Month of May, is one of the most glorious pages Simon Bening, the renowned Flemish artist from the Netherlands, ever created. It is a characteristic Renaissance Maying scene in its depiction of a spring landscape (Bening is known for his landscapes), with green leaves, and branches of greenery… and much more! At first glance, it presents two distinctive scenes related to May Day and a glorious river-side cityscape background scene of fortification walls, several well-constructed secular buildings, and what seems like two impressive Gothic churches. It also includes an anecdotal scene of a small gate leading to the river and a young going down the gate steps leading to the river with a container in each hand, perhaps to fill them with water… so typical Flemish! http://www.digitalmedievalist.com/2004/05/01/its-may-2/ and https://www.moleiro.com/en/books-of-hours/the-golf-book-book-of-hours/miniatura/159

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, May (f. 22v, details),c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/11/

The main scene, in the foreground of the composition, depicts a May Day boating trip along the local canals. In this scene, two boatmen, one at each end of the boat, are rowing a nobleman and two well-dressed ladies along a river, just about to glide under an impressive arched bridge. Enjoying the trip are a man dressed in a large, loose French gown with a sable collar, playing, appropriately I would add,  an ambiguous-looking wind instrument that could be a flute, and two women, dressed in gold-toned garments, one of whom plays the lute, equally appropriate for a female, with a plectrum. The boat is filled with flowering branches reminding the viewer that this is a May Day excursion indeed. https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/11/ and https://www.moleiro.com/en/books-of-hours/the-golf-book-book-of-hours/miniatura/159

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, May (f. 22v, detail),c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/11/
Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, May (f. 22v, detail),c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/11/

The middle ground scene focuses on the activity taking place on the bridge connecting the city to the riversides. Horses are depicted crossing the bridge, and Bening directs the attention of the viewer to an aristocratic couple, well-dressed, crowned with large, white flowers and carrying branches. They seem to be returning “home” after a day of merriment in the countryside. Were they part of the elegant group of riding aristocrats depicted strolling through the wood in the bas-de-page scene of folio 23r? It would have been interesting to know what Simon Bening thought! https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/11/

For a PowerPoint on the  Golf Book, please… Check HERE!

For references to Student Activities on Simon Bening’s May Day page, please… Check HERE!

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, May (f. 22v and 23r),c. 1540, 30 Parchment leaves on paper mounts, bound into a codex, 110 x 80 mm (text space: 85 x 60 mm), British Library, London, UK
https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/11/