The Golf Book (Book of Hours)

The Golf Book (Book of Hours) f. 23r, calendar, May


f. 23r, calendar, May

The scene in the bottom part of the border on f. 23r depicts a stroll through the wood with a servant watching over his lord and lady as they ride along carrying May branches. Behind them are a man and woman apparently in the same group followed by another rider practically covered by the bushes in the foreground. The theme of the May stroll was depicted previously in the Très riches heures du duc de Berry (f. 5v) as a large entourage of ladies and gentlemen preceded by musicians. This theme was also known in Flemish painting, as revealed by the Mary of Burgundy Hours (f. 6r), where it was simplified to a maximum and showed just two galloping knights holding blossoming branches. However, Gerard Horenbout’s main image for the month of May in the Grimani Breviary (f. 5v) was based on the French manuscript, albeit with many variations. Indeed the servant, the lady in the foreground and the rider accompanying them – which had appeared with certain differences in the Hennessy Hours (f. 6r) – are the ones used by the artist in Simon Bening’s workshop to produce the scene in the Golf Book.
On the right of the border is an elliptical medallion, with the word “gemini” underneath, containing the zodiacal constellation portrayed as a naked man and woman in an embrace, in a manner totally different from the classical, imaginary form. Several factors may have influenced the iconography of this image: on the one hand, the tradition of the month of May itself which, like the month of April, is the month of love, and one of the images of the month in the calendar cycle is a loving couple in an erotic game of caresses and embraces. It may also have been affected by a lack of awareness of the classical tradition and the desire to eliminate the slightest suspicion of a relationship between persons of the same sex. This iconography was common in late fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Flemish calendars, although in a series of manuscripts by Gerard Horenbout and his workshop, Gemini is depicted as a male and female couple joined at the head and with two bodies linked by their arms, in a rather alchemic appearance, adopted on occasions by Simon Bening, although in other works by the former artist, such as the Grimani Breviary (7r), their appearance is more naturalist and quite similar to the image in the Golf Book and other works by the Bruges master.

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