The Hours of Joanna I of Castile, Joanna the Mad (The London Rothschild Prayerbook)

The Hours of Joanna I of Castile, Joanna the Mad (The London Rothschild Prayerbook) f.1v, Calendar, January


f.1v, Calendar, January

At the top of the folio upon a crimson ground with golden circles is the representation of the Aquarius sign of the zodiac in the form of a naked youth with long hair –identifiable with Ganymede– pouring two jugs out. He stands in a slightly contrapposto pose with all the weight of his body on his right leg. He was depicted in the classical images of this constellation either with a cloak over one shoulder, a Persian pair of trousers and a Phrygian cap, or garbed with just the first garment, or completely naked. The naked version was the one adopted in early, but not most, medieval miniatures, being employed again in the High Middle Ages, as demonstrated by the image in a thirteenth-century, English manuscript on astronomy (Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm. 19414, f. 188v). This was the version that prevailed from this time onwards and for the following two centuries. In the representations inspired by scientific treatises based on observation, the clearly recognisable trait of this constellation in heaven is the upturned jug and the stream of water. The human figure was added subsequently due to the tendency to humanise representations of the celestial bodies because of the influence of mythographers, who identified it with Jupiter, the creator, pouring water upon the earth, or with Ganymede, who, as mentioned earlier, is usually the most commonplace interpretation. The lack of knowledge about scientific subjects resulted in it being depicted in the Hours of Joanna of Castile with two jugs, although this was not unusual in the 15th and 16th centuries, and it also even retained a certain classical appearance that has disappeared from other representations of the sign, such as those showing it with a feminine appearance or as an image resembling the representation of time. The marginal border features four medallions depicting the feastdays highlighted in red in the text. These are, from top to bottom: the Circumcision, the Epiphany, St Vincent the Martyr and the Conversion of St Paul. The first scene, the Circumcision, shows the Boy Jesus upon a circular altar with his mother holding his head and the mohel carrying out the mila or ritual operation. Behind Our Lady are St Joseph and, around the altar, a female and another male figure, possibly the mohel’s assistant or simply an onlooker. The ritual is shown in a manner totally unlike how it is actually carried out, thereby giving it a Christian value. The law usually required boys to be circumcised and be given their name eight days after their birth, with the ceremony being a symbol of the covenant between God and Israel. It was, furthermore, a prerequisite for taking part in religious services. In the Middle Ages, the importance granted to this rite by Christian theology may have been due to the association made with the effusion of his blood, like a prelude to his Passion, when it was to be spilt later in the Scourging and the Crucifixion. Furthermore, by situating the image, not with a figure with the Boy in his arms sitting upon Elijah’s chair, but upon an altar, would mean that the first sacrifice of the Saviour upon the stone of the altar had the same sacramental quality as the mass. This theme of oriental origin, which appeared at a late stage in Christian art, depicted not so much the operation as its preparation, i.e. Our Lady and St Joseph moving towards the mohel. The only known examples in the western art of the Early Middle Ages are a few miniatures in liturgical manuscripts. From the 12th century onwards, the episode is depicted essentially, in western art, in both liturgical manuscripts and cycles of Christ’s childhood. This subject became increasingly commonplace in the 14th century and, particularly, the 15th, showing, according to virtually a set rule, the circumcision inside the Temple. There are, however, two versions: the one employed in the Hours of Joanna of Castile, with the Virgin holding the Child whilst the mohel or a priest carries out the circumcision, and the version with the high priest holding the Child on his lap, doing the circumcision himself with the help of the mohel. The second medallion depicts the Epiphany. The Virgin Mary holds the Boy Jesus on her lap whilst one of the kings, kneeling but with no crown, offers a jar to Jesus who blesses it with his right hand. Another king, standing, removes his regal attribute whilst the last king, behind him, stands holding his gift in his left hand. Depicted between this medallion and the next are two unidentified saints. The third medallion contains the figure of the deacon and martyr, St Vincent of Saragossa, whose feastday is January 22nd. He is represented according to the traditional iconography as a poet or philosopher standing and reading one of his writings . He holds the book, missal or possibly the Holy Scriptures that he hid to avoid them being destroyed . He has a clerical tonsure and is dressed like a young deacon in a dalmatic. St Vincent the Martyr was from Huesca, the son of a consul and Enola who entrusted his education to St Valerius the bishop of Caesaraugusta, who, at the age of twenty-two, appointed him deacon and commissioned him to preach. Both St Valerius and St Vincent were seized and enchained by the proconsul Dacian who ordered them to be taken to Valentia on foot, obliging them to suffer hunger, thirst and mistreatment by the soldiers. Upon arriving in the city they were tried. The bishop of Caesaraugusta was banished and his deacon subjected to different forms of torture. His tormentors finally lay him upon a bed of broken pottery to prevent him from resting. According to certain writings he died after this trial in January 304, when the proconsul ordered him to be cured in order to carry on torturing him, whilst others say that he died at the stake. His body was not buried but abandoned to be eaten by birds and animals, but they did not touch it and a large raven protected it. When Dacian realised that he had been thwarted, he ordered him to be cast into the sea inside a sack made of woven esparto grass tied to a stone to make it sink. However, both the large stone and the body floated to the shore where it was recovered by Christians and buried. The places where St Vincent is venerated include Valencia, where he was buried, Gaeta, which claimed to have his body, Saint-Benoît-de-Castres, where it was moved to in 855, Lisbon, where his relics were taken to in 1173, and other zones that have relics of his such as Ávila, Paris and Dun-le-Roy (Berry). He is the patron saint of sailors in Portugal, of vinegrowers in France and also of roofers and tile makers. The lowermost medallion shows the Conversion of St Paul on the road to Damasco (Cor.1: 15; 8; Acts. 9: 1.9; 22: 12-19) with the future apostle of the gentiles armed with a sword astride a fallen horse raising his arms to the sky where Christ appears as a bust. His appearance is reminiscent of the personification of Pride falling from his mount as in certain manuscripts depicting psychomaquia or the struggle between personifications of virtues and vices, according, more or less directly, to Aurelius Prudentius’s Psychomachia. Depicted in the bottom section of the folio are the January activities. Shown in a noble setting, represented by a restrained chamber for show or reception forming the centre of a stone dwelling, is a man with a pewter tankard at his side wearing a half cap, a loose, lined gown with fur-trimmed sleeves, a purse at his waist and ankle boots sitting on a high-backed, wooden chair and stretching his hands and feet out to warm them at the fire burning in the chimney. Behind him, a servant sets the round and possibly three-legged table specially designed, according to the inventories, for dining. She lays out upon the white tablecloth a metal dish of sliced meat, utensils around it for eating or seasoning the meal, such as a saltcellar, and loaves of bread. A grey cat watches the scene. Also in the room are a bed with a dais and a high, wooden headboard, covered with an eiderdown and pillows, possibly feather filled, with open curtains beneath the canopy –an innovation that dates from the 13th century and which gave rise to the bed with drapes –all made of the same fabric as the eiderdown, another high-backed chair and a long bench with cushions. On the right, following the mode of depicting indoor and outdoor space at the same time, a system that was to be raised to its highest expression by Gérard Horenbout in the Spinola Hours, a man wearing a half cap, a sash around his neck, a short cloak over a cassock, his hands inside the sleeves to protect them from the cold, and footwear suitable for snow, walks along a snow-lined patio or street –to highlight the contrast between the warm, comfortable indoors– within the walled area of a city. The main motif of the month of January includes two iconographic traditions related to this month. The first is that of a man warming himself by the fire, which belongs to one of the medieval versions of the Janus of Antiquity, whose forerunner is to be found in the iconography of the winter season. Whether it is a more or less middle-aged or an old man, he is characterised by being seated by the fire. The first example of a winter scene being influenced by a pagan god is to be found in the illustration of Janus raising his hands before the flames in a hearth in the Saint-Mesmin Calendar made around the year 1000 (Vatican City, Apostolic Library, ms. Reg. lat. 1263, f. 65r). According to J. C. Webster, this iconographic motif is not so much a personification as an indirect reference to the task of chopping firewood to avoid being cold. This subject had many representations in Italian calendars where it was often depicted in January. As time went by, the image of the ancient god became more trivial and commonplace, becoming associated with English, illuminated cycles rather than the Italian repertory. Secondly, reference is made to Janus eating by means of the servant serving at table. Medieval New Year festivities situated the representation of the Roman god inside a house. The brumae dies in the farming calendar were of special significance, being the peasants’ winter holiday. It was in this way that a certain type of illustration of Janus was established showing him before a banquet table, losing part of his ancient, allegorical nature and becoming part of narrative contexts of a festive nature related to the end and beginning of the year. This theme began to appear in the late 12th century in Italy and England. The abundance of food and drink in this type of representation may have, in addition to a festive explanation, connotations of a medical nature. The Cordova Calendar, for example, recommends that the best food and drink be consumed in January and that warm places should be chosen to dissolve superfluous foodstuffs. The Kalendarium Rivipullense on the other hand advises “potionem contra suffocatione bibere”, in keeping with the Hippocratic theory of humours which had been linked to calendars since Antiquity and which constituted the base of medieval medicine. According to ancient writers, Numa Pompilius (715-676/672 BC) used the name Ianuarius in honour of the legendary Janus, the first king of Latium, who was venerated by the Latins as the god of peace and of all beginnings. As a result of the calendar reform undertaken by Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) in the year 47 BC, this month became the first of the year.

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