The Golf Book (Book of Hours)

The Golf Book (Book of Hours) f. 20v, March, city scene


f. 20v, March, city scene

The main miniature on f. 20v shows a peasant in the foreground, dressed like his companions in breeches, sandals and a short tunic, who stops digging in a terrace in a fenced herb garden, i.e. an orchard and garden of medicinal plants combined, to dock his cap to the lady in a tunic with fur collar and wide sleeves with a small, white dog in her right hand. She gestures eloquently and energetically to him with her left hand. She is followed by a maid in a dress with a generous neckline that is straight across the lower edge and covered by a high ruff of thick fabric. Two peasants in the midway distance chop a bare tree down whilst the lord, slightly further away, wearing a cap and clothes or a gown with sable collar and sleeves, talks to another peasant leaning on the handle of what could be an axe. In the background on the left is a castle with its moat full of water and a man riding across its drawbridge on horseback. A large mansion can be seen above the walls and on the right is a peasant riding one of the two horses pulling what is probably a cart for carrying firewood under a granary. Next to him is a thatched cottage. The peasant in the foreground holds the spade he has dug and removed earth with to make new terraces.
The garden or orchard – possibly containing medicinal herbs and vegetables – consists, according to treatises from the late Middle Ages, of slightly raised, rectangular borders upon a bed of boards to improve drainage. The fence around the garden means that it contains a treasure not only in the symbolical sense but also in the material sense, in other words, the orchard has a market value. We know the importance in the Middle Ages of the trade in spices and plants used to manufacture pigments and dyes and to prepare medicinal remedies that could not be grown outside the fenced area. The setting is partly courtly and partly an orchard. The fence was apparently used as a barrier between areas next to peasants’ or noblemen’s dwellings. The garden plot system appears in the plans of such famous gardens as that of the Saint Gall abbey, drawn in Reichenau in circa 825 (Saint Gall, Cod. Sang. 1092), and this technique was an integral part of the basic organisation of a space in which small quantities of different plants were grown. Petrus of Crescentiis recommends it in order to group together plants sown in the same period. They are depicted in different ways in paintings. The green and ochre tones of the square or rectangular garden plots are darker than the soil and look like chess boards in overhead views of gardens. The image of a lady giving the gardener instructions is influenced by the illustrations of some of Petrus de Crescentiis’s Opus ruralium commodorum manuscripts, also known thanks to the French translation dated 1373 and entitled Rustican or Livre des prouffits champestres. The tree-felling scene in the midway distance shows that wood was not just used as firewood but possibly also for building or repairing houses or making furniture or household utensils. Trees were usually felled in winter to take advantage of the natural pause before the sap rose up in the trees again. Most French and Italian cycles depict felling in November and December although it takes place in certain areas of France such as Aubeterre and in some Flemish cycles at the end of the winter, in the month of March.
The gardening scene appears in works by Gerard Horenbout, such as the Mayer van den Bergh Breviary (f. 2v) and, in an almost identical fashion, in the Book of Hours of Juana I of Castile (f. 2v) and the Spinola Hours (f. 2v). Simon Bening depicts orchard cultivation in the Flowers Book of Hours (f. 2v) and the Da Costa Hours (f. 4v), to which he adds tree felling in the Hennessy Hours (ff. 3v-4r) and the Munich-Montserrat Hours (ff. 4v-5r), but not as part of the same image but on the facing folio. The two images are only combined in the Golf Book, and, in a manner quite similar to the one in this codex, on a page in one of Simon Bening’s calendars dated circa 1540 (London, The British Library, Add. Ms. 18855, f. 108r).
Depicted in cameo in the bas-de-page on folio 20v are several children shaking wooden rattles, as in the top right rectangle of the border around the text in the Mayer van den Bergh Breviary calendar (f. 2v) and the top band in the Spinola Hours (f. 2v), both by Gerard Horenbout. It is difficult to know whether the two children shown fighting on the left are quarrelling or involved in a sporting or mock fight.

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