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/

Holy Monday – Μεγάλη Δευτέρα

Vienna Genesis, The Pharaoh’s Banquet, folio 17, page 34, (Cod. Theol. gr. 31), first half of the 6th century, Illuminated Parchment dyed purple, heightening in shell gold, with a text written in silver ink, 32.0×26.5 cm, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, Austria https://onb.digital/result/10F14EEA

On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he held a feast for all his officials, and in their presence, he lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker. Pharaoh restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.… (Book of Genesis, The story of Joseph, 40:20-22 – Holy Monday – Μεγάλη  Δευτέρα) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+40&version=NIV

Την τρίτη ημέρα λοιπόν, ο Φαραώ είχε τα γενέθλιά του και έκανε συμπόσιο για όλους τους υπηρέτες του και έφερε μπροστά τους τόσο τον αρχιοινοχόο όσο και τον αρχιαρτοποιό.  Και επανέφερε τον αρχιοινοχόο στη θέση που είχε ως οινοχόος, και εκείνος συνέχισε να δίνει το ποτήρι στον Φαραώ.  Τον αρχιαρτοποιό όμως τον κρέμασε, ακριβώς όπως τους είχε δώσει την ερμηνεία ο Ιωσήφ. (Γένεση, Η Ιστορία του Ιωσήφ, 40:20-22- Holy Monday – Μεγάλη  Δευτέρα) https://www.jw.org/el/%CE%B2%CE%B9%CE%B2%CE%BB%CE%B9%CE%BF%CE%B8%CE%AE%CE%BA%CE%B7/%CE%B1%CE%B3%CE%AF%CE%B1-%CE%B3%CF%81%CE%B1%CF%86%CE%AE-online/nwt/%CE%B2%CE%B9%CE%B2%CE%BB%CE%AF%CE%B1/%CE%93%CE%AD%CE%BD%CE%B5%CF%83%CE%B7/40/

Vienna Genesis, The Pharaoh’s Banquet, folio 17, page 34, (Cod. Theol. gr. 31), first half of the 6th century, Illuminated Parchment dyed purple, heightening in shell gold, with a text written in silver ink, 32.0×26.5 cm, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, Austria https://onb.digital/result/10F14EEA

Andreas Fingernagel, Director of the Department of Manuscripts and Rare Books

at the Austrian National Library, considers the Late Antique Codex theologicus graecus 31, the Vienna Genesis as of outstanding importance, an illuminated manuscript regarded and admired as a rare testimony of Late Antique art history. The manuscript, dated to the first half of the 6th century, consists of 48 preserved pages, written in Maiuscula Biblica in silver ink on purple parchment. It is illustrated with 48 miniatures produced in a city scriptorium of culture and sophistication like Antioch or Constantinople. It is one of the earliest known cycles of book miniatures from the Old Testament, a rare witness of Late Antique book culture. Since 1664, this magnificent codex has been preserved at the Imperial Court Library, today, the Austrian National Library in Vienna. https://library.oapen.org/handle/20.500.12657/41206

Vienna Genesis, The Pharaoh’s Banquet (detail), folio 17, page 34, (Cod. Theol. gr. 31), first half of the 6th century, Illuminated Parchment dyed purple, heightening in shell gold, with a text written in silver ink, 32.0×26.5 cm, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, Austria https://onb.digital/result/10F14EEA

According to research done in the early 2020s, the Vienna Genesis is the incredible work of 7 different artists. Scholars came to this conclusion, by looking into each artist’s style, iconography, colour palette, pigments, and dyes. All artists involved in the illumination of the Vienna Genesis were trained in creating rich, and lively paintings in an authentic Late Antique style, suited for the sophisticated liking of an imperial patron.  Painter E (folios 17–18, pages 33–36) has been identified as the artist who created the amazing miniature (folio 17, page 34) depicting The Pharaoh’s Birthday Banquet. This is a scene in the story of Joseph, son of Jacob and Rachel, celebrated during Holy Monday. https://library.oapen.org/handle/20.500.12657/41206 pp. 232-235 and Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/Age_of_Spirituality_Late_Antique_and_Early_Christian_Art_Third_to_Seventh_Century pp. 458-459

The Österreichische Nationalbibliothek of Vienna Digital Copy of the Vienna Genesis… Check https://onb.digital/search/324304

A PowerPoint of all artworks presented for the Holy Week in the Greek Orthodox Church, 2022… is HERE!

Simon Bening’s April

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, April (f. 21v),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/

Praise the spells and bless the charms, / I found April in my arms. / April golden, April cloudy, / Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy; / April soft in flowered languor, / April cold with sudden anger, / Ever changing, ever true — / I love April, I love you…wrote Ogden Nash (1902 – 1971), the 20th-century American writer of humorous poetry! Could Simon Bening’s Calendar page for the Month of April be an example of a Renaissance April Love? https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/always-marry-an-april-girl/

Folio 21verso of Simon Bening’s Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, is dedicated to the Month of April and exhibits a magnificent scene of Renaissance courtship! It all takes place in a beautiful garden, possibly in a town, surrounded by a low fence containing three trees, whose crowns are rather sparse because of their recent blossoming, grass, flowers, and a hexagonal fountain topped by a bronze-colour statue of a discreet Venus pouring water into a hollow in the garden, where a dog drinks. Simon Bening, the inventive painter of the Book of Golf presents the viewer with a detailed vista of impressive Flemish buildings, a magnificent Italianate colonnaded tower, and a lovely vignette… of a pair of storks nesting on a chimney, one of them flying over it. The scene, apart from the courting couple, is quite busy with a lady strolling about the garden alone… a couple of sweethearts talking and a man with a falcon perched on his left hand. In the foreground of the composition, Bening painted a boy, picking up flowers, and a young girl stretching her hands out towards the water, enjoying a crisp day of Spring. https://www.moleiro.com/en/books-of-hours/the-golf-book-book-of-hours/miniatura/603

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, April (Details, f. 21v),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 protagonists of Bening’s April arrangement, depicted in the center of the composition, outshine everything else! The young Lady, beautifully dressed in the latest of 16th-century fashion, wears a loose-fitting blue gown, revealing a red petticoat underneath when raised, with a wide, square neckline with a white ruff (a large round collar of intricately pleated muslin).  She demurely gives her left hand to a gentleman, even more impressively dressed, who sits on the edge of the fountain, holding with his right hand a hooded falcon, and leaning towards her. The depicted man seems older than his mistress. He wears French garb consisting of a square-necked gown over a fastened shirt with a high, ruffled-edge collar, a skullcap (close-fitting cap), and a hat, long, dark-coloured hose, a very short type of footwear that appeared in the last quarter of the 15th century, and, hanging from his belt, an impressive, long sword. https://www.moleiro.com/en/books-of-hours/the-golf-book-book-of-hours/miniatura/603

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, April (Detail f. 21v),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

This is an elegant scene of courtship between members of the aristocratic society. A romantic scene of a couple emotionally and socially attached is a symbol of a tacit agreement of commitment between the two persons. What I like most in Bening’s April scene is how the young Lady lowers her eyes shyly while her gallant suitor looks at her…amorously smiling! What a scene! https://www.moleiro.com/en/books-of-hours/the-golf-book-book-of-hours/miniatura/603

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

For a Student Activity on Simon Bening’s April Page, please… Check HERE!

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, April (f. 22r),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, April (f. 21v and 22r),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 March

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, March (f. 20v and 21r),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/

Never mind, March, we know / When you blow / You’re not really mad / Or angry or bad; / You’re only blowing the winter away / To get the world ready for April and May… writes Annette Wynne… just as in Simon Bening’s March Page preparations for Spring are in order! What a magnificent scene… an introductory full-page miniature showing the agricultural labours associated with the beginning of the agricultural season. https://discoverpoetry.com/poems/march-poems/ and https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/calendars/page/11/

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, March (f. 20v),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 miniature on f. 20v of the Golf Book by Simon Bening, shows, in the foreground, an organized, enclosed Medieval Garden. The depicted labourer, a neatly dressed peasant, is presented to stop digging and to dock his cap to an aristocratic lady who gestures eloquently and energetically to him with her left hand as if she is instructing him on what his gardening chores should be. Followed by her lady-in-waiting the “principal” female figure of the composition is quite impressively dressed in a tunic with a fur collar and wide sleeves with a small, white dog in her right hand. Even her companion/maid is beautifully groomed in a dress with a generous neckline that is straight across the lower edge and covered by a high ruff of thick fabric. This is a lovely introductory scene to medieval gardening and the importance of medicinal plants for the people of the Middle Ages. https://www.moleiro.com/en/books-of-hours/the-golf-book-book-of-hours/miniatura/158

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, March (f. 20v) (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
http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=add_ms_24098_fs001r

What I find particularly interesting about this composition, is the depicted garden or orchard – possibly containing medicinal herbs and vegetables – that Bening depicted in the left forward part of his March verso page composition. For my students, the March page is a perfect opportunity to discuss Gardening during the Middle Ages, the importance of herbal or medicinal gardens, and how they are depicted in art. A fascinating book to read, beautifully illustrated is Sweet Herbs and Sundry Flowers: Medieval Gardens and the Gardens of The Cloisters by Tania Bayard, which I use for a Student Activity… HERE! https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/Sweet_Herbs_and_Sundry_Flowers_Medieval_Gardens_and_the_Gardens_of_The_Cloisters

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

Simon Bening (d. 1561) and his workshop
Book of Hours, known as the Golf Book, March (f. 20v and 21r) (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
http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=add_ms_24098_fs001r

The Joshua Roll

The Joshua Roll, 10th century, Tempera and gold on vellum, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Pal. gr. 431, Vatican City

When I think of Byzantine Manuscripts, the first one that comes to my mind is the Joshua Roll… unique, luxurious and remarkable in every aspect… Hellenistic in spirit!

Dated in the 10th century, this Macedonian Renaissance illuminated manuscript comes to us in a very rare format, a Roll… 31 cm high and about 10 meters long, one of the most priceless treasures in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana. The master artist of the Joshua Roll is unknown, but he definitely belonged to a selected group of Constantinopolitan painters trained in a style much influenced by the classicizing tradition prevailing in the Imperial Court of the time.

The Joshua Roll is dedicated to the Old Testament Book of Joshua. Although incomplete, as it starts with Chapter II and ends with Chapter X, it presents the most important adventures and military accomplishments of the great Israelite figurehead. Joshua was originally Moses’ assistant and after his death, the leader of the Israelite tribes, leading them in conquering the promised land of Canaan. When the Joshua Roll was created, the Byzantines were, after a long period of defence, able to successfully campaign in the Holy Land, enjoying decisive victories. Scholars believe that the illuminated manuscript was meant to glorify the military success of the Byzantine army, and exalt their Emperor.

The Joshua Roll is a very unique Codex, unparalleled and unrivalled in the whole world… yet enigmatic! The Bibliography of the Joshua Roll is extensive and challenging. In 2012 another volume was added – Wander, Steven H. The Joshua Roll. Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2012. pp. 224. ISBN: 978-389-5008-542 – where information of interest and controversy was added to the already extensive arguments. Wander “dates the manuscript to 961 and connects it to the patronage of the powerful middle Byzantine eunuch, courtier, and illegitimate son of Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos (r. 920-944), Basil the Parakoimomenos (chamberlain) (c. 925-c. 985).” Wander takes his controversial interpretation one step further, he “proposes that the Joshua Roll was the study for a small-scale triumphal column that would have commemorated Basil’s military success in the East during the reign of Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (r. 945-959).” His arguments, important and novel, challenge long-standing assumptions. (Wander, Steven H. The Joshua Roll. Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2012. pp. 224. ISBN: 978-389-5008-542 (hardback) and an interesting review https://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/tmr/article/view/20003

…and the Joshua fresco from the Hosios Loukas Monastery
https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/CivilizationHamblin/id/1892/

My favourite assumption is the Roll’s connection to monumental art, and more specifically the art of wall painting. There is a striking connection to a recently discovered fresco in the church of Hosios Loukas in Phocis, and the extraordinary fresco Marian Cycle of the church of Santa Maria Foris Portas a Castelseprio, dazzling its viewers today as it did in 1944 when they were discovered! The similarities between the Joshua Roll illuminations and the Castelseprio frescoes are long-standing, as they are both considered the products of a common artistic tradition. (On Hosios Loukas and the Joshua Roll: Carolyn L. Connor, “Hosios Loukas as a Victory Church,” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 33, no. 3 (1992): 293-308, esp. 304-305 and on Castelseprio: Kurt Weitzmann, The Fresco Cycle of S. Maria di Castelseprio, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951)

Santa Maria Di Castelseprio Photos
https://cartesensibili.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/mete-di-viaggio-raffaella-terribile-un-piccolo-scrigno-riscoperto-santa-maria-foris-portas-a-castelseprio/

Coming back to my original statement, the Joshua Roll is… unique, luxurious and remarkable in every aspect and so much so Hellenistic in spirit! The Byzantium I love!

For a Full Digital Fascimile of the Manuscript, please check the site of the Vatican Library: https://digi.vatlib.it/view/MSS_Pal.gr.431.pt.B

For a Joshua Roll Student Activity… check HERE!

The Limbourg Brothers… and the 1st of May

The Limbourg Brothers are among my favorite artists! The month of May in “Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry,” the manuscript, is another favorite.

A merry group of horse-riding men and women, wearing their finest garments, May wreaths on their heads, attended by servants and entertained by musicians, this group of elegant aristocrats depicts, according to the Limbourg brothers, a May pageant. In the center of the composition, a young woman, maybe Joan II, Countess of Auvergne and Boulogne, on a white horse, is dressed in a rich traditional green garment, known at the time as “ livrée de Mai.” In front of her, with his back to the viewer, is the Duc de Berry, impressive in his gold-embroidered blue robe, is depicted turning and talking to his bride-to-be.

Paul Limbourg, the probable painter of this page, organized his composition in three levels. The Duke’s entourage occupies the first level displaying vibrant colors, subtle movement and wealth. The second level, a deep, green forest, along with two indications of shrubbery in the very front of the picture, creates an alcove of tranquility, serenity and a sense of safety for the group of aristocrats to continue. Finally, the third level, rendered in lapis lazuli blue, indicates the possible location of this event. The rooftops of Hôtel de Neslé, the Conciergerie and the Tour de l’Horloge in the Isle de la Cité tell us we are in Paris, it’s the 1st of May and it’s time to celebrate!

Herman, Paul, and Johan Limbourg, c. 1385 – 1416

Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, the month of May page, c. 1412-1416, manuscript illumination on vellum, 30 cm in height by 21.5 cm, Musée Condé, Chantilly, France

For more information, please check http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/famous-paintings/tres-riches-heures-duc-de-berry.htmhttps://artsandculture.google.com/asset/tr%C3%A8s-riches-heures-du-duc-de-berry-mois-de-mai/VgFhrcA2WNZh6A and https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/tr%C3%A8s-riches-heures-du-duc-de-berry-mois-de-mai/VgFhrcA2WNZh6A

For a Student Activity Worksheet … Click HERE!

For a Picture (Wikimedia Public Domain) … Click HERE!