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Labours of the Months

  • Object:

    Panel

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1450-1475 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Clear glass with yellow (silver) stain and details painted in brown pigment

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Art Fund

  • Museum number:

    C.123-1923

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10a, The Françoise and Georges Selz Gallery, case WN EXP

This roundel is one of six acquired by the museum in 1923 (Museum nos.C.123-128-1923). It was originally from a set of 12 roundels depicting the ‘Labours of the Months’. The museum purchased them from the sale of the contents of Cassiobury Park in Hertfordshire. They had probably been installed in the windows of the house when it was remodelled in the early years of the 19th century. We do not know where they were located before that date.

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. They 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 a man is pruning vines. The scroll above his head tells us that it is the month of March. This was a common occupation in the wine-growing regions of Europe prior to the spring growth. England mostly imported wine but there were a number of wine-growing areas in the country in the medieval period. White grapes were more suited to the English climate.

The back view of the man in this roundel enables us to see how his hose is attached to his tunic. The method here illustrated is known as ‘pourpoint’ in which the tunic and hose are attached with points or laces tied through holes in both garments. At this date the hose is of one piece, rather than two separate pieces of cloth for each leg. Sometimes the hose is held up simply by a rope tied round the waist. It is possible that this figure was to be seen as one wearing clothes of better craftsmanship.

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 gloves and boots. Smear shading and stipple-shading are used to create depth in the background and texture in his garments.

Physical description

In the centre is a man with his back to the viewer. He uses a type of sickle to prune back some tall vines that are held upright in a wood framework. Some of the vines bear leaves. At the bottom right there is a small wooden wine casket and a black bird pecking at his bread which was wrapped in a white cloth.. At the top is a white scroll with the word ‘Marcys’ painted in black-brown pigment.

Place of Origin

England (made)

Date

ca. 1450-1475 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Clear glass with yellow (silver) stain and details painted in brown pigment

Marks and inscriptions

Marcys
March

Dimensions

Diameter: 21.5 cm no frame, Diameter: 19.6 cm within the leads

Object history note

These six roundels (C.123-128-1928) were purchased from Cassiobury Park, near Watford, Hertfordshire in 1923. They had probably been installed during James Wyatt’s remodelling of the house for the 5th Earl of Essex in 1801-3.

Historical context note

This roundel is one of six acquired by the museum in 1923 (Museum nos.C.123-128-1923). It was originally from a set of 12 roundels depicting the ‘Labours of the Months’. The museum purchased them from the sale of the contents of Cassiobury Park in Hertfordshire. They had probably been installed in the windows of the house when it was remodelled in the early years of the 19th century. We do not know where they were located before that date.

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. They 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 a man is pruning vines. The scroll above his head tells us that it is the month of March. This was a common occupation in the wine-growing regions of Europe prior to the spring growth. England mostly imported wine but there were a number of wine-growing areas in the country in the medieval period. White grapes were more suited to the English climate.

The back view of the man in this roundel enables us to see how his hose is attached to his tunic. The method here illustrated is known as 'pourpoint' in which the tunic and hose are attached with points or laces tied through holes in both garments. At this date the hose is of one piece, rather than two separate pieces of cloth for each leg. Sometimes the hose is held up simply by a rope tied round the waist. It is possible that this figure was to be seen as one wearing clothes of better craftsmanship.

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 gloves and boots. Smear shading and stipple-shading are used to create depth in the background and texture in his garments.

Descriptive line

Roundel of clear glass with painted details and yellow (silver) stain depicting a man pruning vines and illustrating the month of March. From a series of the Labours of the Months. Made in England about 1450-75.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Williamson, Paul. Medieval and Renaissance Stained Glass in the Victoria and Albert Museum. London, 2003. ISBN 1851774041
Kerry Ayre, 'English Figurative Stained Glass Roundels Produced before 1530', Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, xix, 1 (1989-90), pp.1-17
Kerry Ayre, Medieval English Figurative Roundels, (CVMA), Summary Catalogue 6, British Academy 2002
J. Baker, English Stained Glass of the Medieval Period, London, 1978
S. Crewe, Stained Glass in England c.1180-c.1540, London, 1987
T. McAleavy, Life in a Medieval Castle, London, 1998
Bernard Rackham, A Guide to the Collection of Stained Glass, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1936
Herbert Read, 'The Labours of the Months: A Series of Stained Glass Roundels', The Burlington Magazine, XLIII (1923), pp.167-8
J. Waterson, 'From Cologne to Cassiobury: provenance of the Stoke D'Abernon glass', Country Life (24 May 1984), pp.1504-6
J.C. Webster, The Labours of the Months in Antique and Medieval Art at the End of the Twelfth Century, Princeton, 1938
C.Woodforde, The Norwich School of Glass-Painting in the Fifteenth Century, London, 1950

Materials

Glass

Techniques

Painting; Silver staining

Subjects depicted

Vines; Time; Seasons; Workers; Men; Rooks (birds); Crows

Categories

Stained Glass; British Galleries

Collection

Ceramics Collection

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