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/

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

Saint George and the Dragon by Rogier van der Weyden

Rogier van der Weyden, 1399 or 1400-1464
Saint George and the Dragon, 1432-1435, oil on panel, 14.3×10.5 cm, NGA, Washington DC
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saint_George_and_the_Dragon_Rogier.jpg

The legend of Saint George and the Dragon, popular in literature and the visual arts since the 11th century, has the right measure of Christian faith, fervor, and miracle! It is a joy to read about, and marvel …the king had his daughter dressed like a bride, embraced and kissed her, gave her his blessing, then led her to the place where the dragon was.    /    When she was there Saint George passed by, and seeing the lady, he asked her what she was doing there.    /    She said, “Go your way, fair young man, lest you perish as well.”    /    Then he said, “Tell me why you are weeping.”    /    When she saw that he insisted on knowing, she told him how she had been delivered to the dragon.    /    Then Saint George said, “Fair daughter, doubt not, for I shall help you in the name of Jesus Christ.”    /    She said, “For God’s sake, good knight, go your way, for you cannot save me.”    /    While they were thus talking together the dragon appeared and came running toward them. Saint George, who was on his horse, drew his sword, made the sign of the cross, then rode swiftly toward the dragon. He struck him with his spear, injuring him severely.    /    Then he said to the maid, “Tie your belt around the dragon’s neck, and be not afraid.”    /    When she had done so the dragon followed her meekly. She led him into the city, and the people fled in fear.    /    Saint George said to them, “Doubt not. Believe in God and Jesus Christ, and be baptized, and I shall slay the dragon.”    /    Then the king and all his people were baptized, whereupon Saint George killed the dragon and cut off his head… Saint George and the Dragon by Rogier van der Weyden is a marvel to explore! https://sites.pitt.edu/~dash/stgeorge1.html

I particularly like Roger van der Weyden’s small painting of Saint George and the Dragon at the National Gallery in Washington DC. Probably the earliest of Roger’s paintings, Saint George and the Dragon is of exceptionally high quality. Some scholars discuss how close the painting is to the art of the International Gothic Style, while others find close affiliations to the Netherlandish tradition of Manuscript Illumination; yet they all agree that Roger’s characteristic linearity is evident, his tendency in depicting courtly chivalric elegance apparent and a microscopic yet realistic and atmospheric landscape all too powerful! https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/early-netherlandish-painting.pdf pp. 264-270

Rogier van der Weyden, 1399 or 1400-1464
Saint George and the Dragon (details), 1432-1435, oil on panel, 14.3×10.5 cm, NGA, Washington DC
https://twtext.com/article/1246172930633015296

Rogier van der Weyden is a favourite Flemish artist… thoughtful and insightful, overwhelming yet sincere in his art. According to the National Gallery (London) experts, he was internationally famed for the naturalism of his detail and his expressive pathos.  He created a range of types – for portraits and for religious subjects – which were repeated throughout the Netherlands, the Iberian peninsula, and even Italy, until the mid-16th century. https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/artists/rogier-van-der-weyden

As is the case with many Early Flemish painters, we know little about Rogier van der Weyden’s life. We know, for example, that for almost five years, between March 1427 to August 1432, he was “apprenticed” to Robert Campin in his hometown of Tournai. He couldn’t have chosen a better teacher/mentor. On the 1st of August 1432, Rogier became a master of the Tournai guild, entitled to undertake work there on his own account, opened his own workshop, acquiring success, and prestige. It is interesting how he maintained workshops in both the cities of Tournai and Brussels whereby 1436, it has been documented, that… he was made painter to the city of Brussels and that… in 1450 he may have traveled to Rome. . https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/artists/rogier-van-der-weyden and https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/artist/weyden-rogier-van-der/2f4ef580-41c0-4756-a74c-d8ebda889668

Rogier van der Weyden, 1399 or 1400-1464
Saint George and the Dragon (detail), 1432-1435, oil on panel, 14.3×10.5 cm, NGA, Washington DC
https://twtext.com/article/1246172930633015296

Rogier van der Weyden was a prolific painter and an astute businessman. By 1443, he had acquired two large, adjoining houses in Brussels, in the posh “Golden Street,” in close proximity to the Coudenberg Palace, the residence of the Duke of Burgundy, the Town Hall and the Markt (now the Grand-Place), the centres of civic life and commerce; and the Collegiate Church of Saint Gudula (now the city’s Cathedral). It is believed, by the Prado Museum experts that he ran a busy workshop, and he may have had to feed a large team. One of his two houses could have been the place where he and his assistants worked, where his apprentices, and perhaps other collaborators, lodged, and where pictures were displayed for sale to patrons like Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, foreign princes, as well as for city and church dignitaries. https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/artists/rogier-van-der-weyden

Rogier van der Weyden, 1399 or 1400-1464
Saint George and the Dragon (details), 1432-1435, oil on panel, 14.3×10.5 cm, NGA, Washington DC
https://twtext.com/article/1246172930633015296

The small painting of Saint George and the Dragon has all the characteristics of Rogier’s paintings that I find endearing… an imaginary landscape, rich in detail rendered with the greatest clarity and realism, amazing interest in the depiction of light, as we see it reflecting on George’s armor and the dragon’s scales, elegance, chivalry, and pathos! What more can you ask!

For a PowerPoint on Rogier van der Weyden’s Altarpieces, please… Check HERE!

For a Student Activity, check NGA’s Eye for Art Pamphlet… https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/Education/learning-resources/an-eye-for-art/AnEyeforArt-RogierVanDerWeydenRaphael.pdf