The Golf Book (Book of Hours)

The Golf Book (Book of Hours) f. 23v, June, tournament

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f. 23v, June, tournament

The painting on f. 23v depicts a tournament in a Flemish city. Attended by their servants are two knights on their mounts in the foreground attempting to strike the other down with their swords. Their broken lances lie on the ground. A mounted herald on the left sounds a small trumpet, whilst two armed riders on the right wait their turn to fight. Jousting in the centre of the tournament field are two knights on either side of a palisade. A large crowd in the background watches the jousting from behind a barrier and the city authorities from the privileged position of a raised platform. The city is depicted in the distance as a group of churches and secular buildings of different periods which can be seen to be an adaptation of existing elements rather than an actual place in Bruges.
The knights wear plate armour and, on top of it, a velvet coat-of-arms in the colours of their emblem, tied with a cord to the waist, and a wide sword belt from which the dagger and sword hang. Underneath, they usually wore chain mail and a chain mail coif under their helmet. Donning armour, which was made of thinner, sliding steel plates for tournaments for greater ease of movement, began with the neck guard to which the breastplate or cuirass and brassards were attached. The legs were dressed from the feet upwards, making help from a shield bearer essential due to the rigidity of the feet. The shields were made of wood, without any iron or steel. The only visible parts of the horses are the crownpieces protecting their heads and their long, ornamented covering. In tournaments, blows were always delivered to the knight’s left arm, head and breastplate therefore these parts were carefully protected by heavier pieces and even extra plates screwed onto the usual ones.
Tournaments were not often depicted before the 14th century, appearing more frequently from then onwards, particularly in illustrations in romans or tales of ancient and recent history, being very commonplace in France, Germany and, above all, Italy, as can be seen in many workshop notebooks by Lombard artists and in paintings decorating cassoni and, in France and Italy, in the frescoes and tapestries embellishing certain rooms between the 13th and 16th centuries. The tournament theme was, however, unusual in calendar cycles, particularly in books of hours, appearing in these devotional books very late – except in certain clearly satirical drolleries – probably due to the church’s disapproval, considering them to be places conducive to unleashing bitterness and anger about certain persons in addition to encouraging laziness, due to the depression that assails losers, avarice, for men come to strip each other of their possessions, gluttony, because of the celebrations held, and lust because the aim of combat is to satisfy women. The tournament motif was, however, depicted in some of Simon Bening’s books of hours. The fact that this scene appears as a usual activity in the month of June may suggest that the book’s patron identified himself with it and was therefore a member of the nobility.
Depicted in the bottom of the border around the scene are several children jousting on wooden horses or holding windmills on sticks in their hands, in an ironic allusion, or concession to moralists, about the combat taking place in the main painting.

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