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Labours of the months: December

  • Object:

    Panel

  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1450 to 1475 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

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

  • Credit Line:

    Given by Art Fund

  • Museum number:

    C.128-1923

  • 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 (Musuem nos.C.123-128-1923). Originally they would have formed part of a set of 12 roundels depicting the ‘Labours of the Months’. The original location of these roundels is unknown. The museum purchased them from the sale of the contents of Cassiobury Park. They had probably been installed when the house was remodelled in the early years of the 19th century.

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 century.

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, the month of December, and sometimes also January, is usually illustrated by a scene of feasting as in this roundel. They appear in both religious and secular settings.

At the end of the agricultural year, animals that weren't kept for breeding purposes were slaughtered and their meat preserved. This provided a stock of protein for the coming lean winter months. All classes of society at this time would engage in elaborate feasts, in accordance with their means. These feasts were traditionally associated with the festivities around Christmas and the New Year.

In this roundel a king sits at a cloth-covered table which is laden with precious metal containers holding food. He is accompanied by a male and a female diner on either side of him. They are entertained by two young men, one playing a lute and the other a harp. The scene takes place in a room with three quarried-fenestrated windows. The quarries are inset within a two-light arcade. The floor is composed of stylised flowers in lozenges and may represent painted or, more likely, inlaid tiles. Above the scene is a white scroll with painted letters ‘Decembris’.

The young man playing the lute is holding the instrument as if he were left-handed. This may be the case or it may indicate that the design was taken from an engraving and is a mirror image of the original.

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 figures' clothing and in the table covering.

Physical description

A king sits a cloth-covered table which is laden with precious metal containers holding food. He is accompanied by a male and a female diner on either side of him. They are entertained by two young men, one playing a lute and the other a harp. The scene takes place in a room with three quarried-fenestrated windows. The quarries are inset within a two-light arcade. The floor is composed of stylised flowers in lozenges and may represent painted or, more likely, inlaid tiles. Above the scene is a white scroll with painted letters ‘Decembris’.

Place of Origin

England (made)

Date

ca. 1450 to 1475 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

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

Dimensions

Diameter: 19.5 cm, Diameter: 21.9 cm including lead rim

Object history note

These six roundels were purchased from Cassiobury Park, near Watford, Hertfordshire in 1923.

Historical context note

This roundel is one of six acquired by the museum in 1923 (Musuem nos.C.123-128-1923). Originally they would have formed part of a set of 12 roundels depicting the 'Labours of the Months'. The original location of these roundels is unknown. The museum purchased them from the sale of the contents of Cassiobury Park. They had probably been installed when the house was remodelled in the early years of the 19th century.

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 century.

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, the month of December, and sometimes also January, is usually illustrated by a scene of feasting as in this roundel. They appear in both religious and secular settings.

At the end of the agricultural year, animals that weren't kept for breeding purposes were slaughtered and their meat preserved. This provided a stock of protein for the coming lean winter months. All classes of society at this time would engage in elaborate feasts, in accordance with their means. These feasts were traditionally associated with the festivities around Christmas and the New Year.

In this roundel a king sits at a cloth-covered table which is laden with precious metal containers holding food. He is accompanied by a male and a female diner on either side of him. They are entertained by two young men, one playing a lute and the other a harp. The scene takes place in a room with three quarried-fenestrated windows. The quarries are inset within a two-light arcade. The floor is composed of stylised flowers in lozenges and may represent painted or, more likely, inlaid tiles. Above the scene is a white scroll with painted letters 'Decembris'.

The young man playing the lute is holding the instrument as if he were left-handed. This may be the case or it may indicate that the design was taken from an engraving and is a mirror image of the original.

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 figures' clothing and in the table covering.

Descriptive line

Roundel of clear glass with yellow (silver) stain and brown painted details. Depicting a banqueting scene and illustrating the month of December from a series of the Labours of the Months. Made in England about 1450-75.

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

Paul Williamson, Medieval and Renaissance Stained Glass in the Victoria & Albert Museum, V&A, 2003
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

Wealth; Monarchs; Harp; Queens; Winter; Robes; Plates; Kings; Time; Servants; Seasons; Crowns; Noblewomen; Tableware; Tables; Noblemen; Dishes; Lute; Musicians

Categories

Stained Glass; Royalty; British Galleries

Collection

Ceramics Collection

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