The Hours of Henry VIII

The Hours of Henry VIII January. Feasting and keeping warm, f. 1r

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January. Feasting and keeping warm, f. 1r

It is a cold, late afternoon in winter. Heavy snow is falling. The main “work” in January, while little can be done in terms of cultivation, is to keep well fed and indoors. Snow falls on the back of the servant who brings in a few logs from the woodpile in the courtyard. He is about to enter the manor’s great hall where the lord of the house sits, his back to the hearth, before his meal. His wife (or servant?), closer to the fire, warms her hands.

Poyer, as discussed in chapter I, was still famous, half a century after his death, for his use of perspective. This January image, the first picture in the Hours of Henry VIII, reveals his talents. The three different spaces in the miniature – courtyard, foyer, great hall – are clearly defined, both individually and in relation to each other. The courtyard’s gate and far wall, for example, are made parallel to the picture plane and to the back wall of the hall. The foyer’s open outer wall is clearly parallel to the inner wall that separates the foyer from the hall. The visible panels of the linen-fold protective enclosure, which keeps the cold from entering the hall, are also accurately rendered in perspective. The right side is parallel to the hall’s wall (and to the foyer’s outer wall); the panels facing the viewer are parallel to the hall’s back wall and to the picture plane. The alternating floor tiles, as is often the case with Poyer’s interiors, also help define the space. In an unusual and interesting manner, Poyer shifts the center of his perspectival delineation to the far right of the composition: the vertical line that runs straight back, perpendicular to the picture frame, is the one leading to the seated woman’s right foot. While the man at table forms the focus in most artists’ January compositions, Poyer here nearly pushes him out of the picture. Space, as it fans leftward, into the hall, foyer, and courtyard, is the real subject of this picture.

Throughout the calendar – and, indeed, throughout the entire manuscript – Poyer displays a keen interest in the detailed depiction of clothing. This interest affects the rendering of the fashions not only worn by people viewed as contemporaneous with the original patron of the book -- such as the people in the calendar -- but also those worn by the historic figures in the Infancy cycle, as well as by the saints in the Suffrages. Poyer, like most late medieval and Renaissance French and Flemish artists, used fashions to offer visual clues to the viewer as to the figures’ status in society, their antiquity, or the foreignness. In the January miniature, the lord of the house wears a long gown with straight sleeves and a fur hat with an attached cornet draped, like a scarf, around his shoulders. Both articles of clothing are very conservative for this time. The flat-topped black chaperon worn by the man’s wife (or servant) is equally old-fashioned for this period.

In the three-sided border of the text block are illustrated some of January’s major (and minor) feasts. At the left, reading from top to bottom, are the Circumcision (feast on January 1 in blue), the Apostle John, shown bearded, as he is in his suffrage miniature on folio 174 (John’s octave is January 3), and the Adoration of the Magi (Epiphany, January 6, in red, with its octave on January 13). The right border includes Sts. Anthony Abbot (January 17), Sebastian, nude, as he is in his suffrage miniature on folio 179 (January 20, in red), Agnes (January 21), Emerentiana (Agnes’s foster sister; January 23), and a generic male saint. Without attribute, this and other generic saints within the calendar’s borders do not represent particular saints but refer, in a general way, to the virgins and martyrs listed in the month.

The zodiacal sign is Aquarius, the Water Carrier.

Roger S. Wieck. Curator
Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts
The Morgan Library & Museum


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