The Golf Book (Book of Hours)

The Golf Book (Book of Hours) f. 22v, May,  promenade by boat

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f. 22v, May, promenade by boat

In keeping with the amorous context of the representation of the month of April, the painting on f. 22v depicts a stroll along the canals and the return after the celebrations of May 1st. The foreground is occupied by a boat, with a rower at each end, bedecked with blossoming branches and about to sail under a bridge. Sitting in the boat are a man dressed in a large, loose French gown with a sable collar, playing an ambiguous-looking wind instrument that could be a flute, and two women, one of whom plays a lute with a plectrum. Horses are depicted crossing the bridge and two riders can be made out – a man wearing a gown and cap, and a woman in a tunic with false sleeves, a square neckline, ruff and feather hat – bearing May branches after their ride through the country, like the servant following them on foot. This group goes through the entrance of a fortified city inside which several buildings can be seen including a church and a large mansion. Finally, going down the steps leading to the river is a woman with a container in each hand, perhaps to fill them with water.
According to a tradition stemming from the ancient floralia, it was customary for young people to go to the countryside or a neighbouring wood on May 1st to cut green branches which, upon returning, would be used to decorate houses, streets and even people or certain items, such as a pool, used in the celebrations of the awakening of spring. It must also be said that, unlike in scenes of peasants’ occupations, differences can be seen between social classes. The upper classes are more refined – with music and conversation, i.e. what is known as otium cum dignitatem – in comparison with the lower classes satisfying their basic needs.
The theme of the stroll along the canal is very frequent in Flemish calendars, with the only variations being that the boat sails along a river crossing a field, where hunting is taking place, or around a city, with a bridge people ride across on their way back from the fields or from hunting.
Depicted in cameo in the bottom of the border on f. 22v are several boys engaged in archery practice: drawing the bow, shooting at a target on a pole and loading a crossbow. This activity, of an aristocratic nature in Flanders, is one indication that the Golf Book patron belonged to the nobility although, as we shall see, he or she may have been from a different area. Countless drolleries from the 14th century onwards depict this activity, which could be seen as preparation for hunting. Indeed, Simon Bening depicts this practice in the Hennessy Hours (f. 11v-12r), albeit in a different manner and in a different context from that of the British Library codex, i.e. a single crossbowman in the main scene on the two facing pages of the month of November.

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