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Roundel - Labours of the Months

Labours of the Months

  • Object:

    Roundel

  • Place of origin:

    Norwich (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1500-1520 (made)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Clear and coloured glass painted with brown/black pigment and silver stain

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased with the support of Sam Fogg Ltd., the Friends of the V&A and the V&A Director's Circle

  • Museum number:

    C.99-2011

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10a, The Fran├žoise and Georges Selz Gallery, case WN EXP

This roundel is one of two acquired by the museum (Museum nos. C.99 to 100-2011). It was originally from a set of 12 roundels depicting the 'Labours of the Months', eight of which still survive. Until the 1980s, they were installed in Brandiston Hall in the county of Norfolk. Their original location is unknown but they may have been commissioned by the Norwich merchant, Thomas Pickerell for his house in that city. The other surviving roundels from Brandiston depict a king feasting, various agricultural activities and a female bathing.

The depiction of the months and occupations associated with them appear early in the Medieval period on church facades and interiors. They also appear in illuminated manuscripts and start to become more common in stained glass in the 14th and, especially, the 15th centuries.

The occupations depicted in these 'Labours of the Months' are mostly agricultural and are thus intimately associated with the landed class and their agricultural labourers. However, during the winter months when little agricultural activity takes place, the imagery is usually that of feasting or trying to stay warm. These Labours appear in both religious and secular settings.

'Labours of the Months' are found all throughout Europe and the occupations depicted are standard but do vary in accordance with the local climate. Harvesting, for instance, began earlier in the year in Southern Europe. Feasting and drinking scenes, mostly aristocratic in form, appear in either December or January in all European countries. These months are traditionally associated with major festivals in the Church year and the consumption of large quantities of meat. Much livestock was killed at this time of year to provide food over the winter months.

Some of the 'Labours of the Months' stained glass roundels believed to have been painted in England share the same imagery. This imagery must have come from a common source, most likely from a series of woodblock engravings which may have circulated between the glazing workshops.

In this roundel an elderly man sits and warms himself in front of a fire. He is well-dressed in a yellow tunic over which is a white cloak and a blue cape is draped around his shoulders. The cloak is trimmed with fur and he is wearing a fur hat. This would indicate that he was a man of some means although not of the nobility or landed gentry, most likely an urban-based merchant. The metal candlestick, basin and ewer on the mantelpiece equally confirm that he is well-off. He wears round-toed shoes which came into fashion in the late 15th century and were worn well into the 16th century.

Such a scene could be associated with either the month of January or of February. None of the Brandiston roundels bear inscriptions describing the month which is depicted. By comparison with similar roundels produced in England, February is a likely choice for the month depicted here.

The paintwork on this roundel is very detailed and highly skilled, indicating the work of a prominent glass-painting workshop. The techniques employed include 'stickwork' which makes use of a stylus to scrape away areas of paint to produce highlights, as seen in the figure's cloak and hair. Smear shading and stipple-shading are used to create depth in the background and texture in his garments.

Physical description

Roundel, clear and coloured glass, painted in brown/black pigment and silver stain depicting an elderly man sitting in front of a fire.

Place of Origin

Norwich (made)

Date

ca. 1500-1520 (made)

Materials and Techniques

Clear and coloured glass painted with brown/black pigment and silver stain

Dimensions

Diameter: 27.7 cm unframed, excluding hanging loop, Width: 30.3 cm framed, Height: 30.2 cm framed

Object history note

Acquired from Brandiston Hall, Brandiston, Norfolk. Possibly orginally from the home of Thomas Pickarell, merchant of Norwich.

Materials

Glass

Techniques

Stained; Painted

Collection

Ceramics Collection

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