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The Labours of the Months

Tapestry
ca. 1450 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

A successful harvest was crucial in the middle ages. Manuscripts and tapestries sometimes illustrated the monthly labours required to make it successful. In this example, only half of the tapestry survives, showing the months of July to December.

Scrolls have the names of the months inscribed in the dialect of Alsace, where the tapestry was made. July shows the cutting and gathering of hay; August, the corn being reaped; September, harrowing and sowing; October, cutting the grapes and making wine; November, slaughtering an ox. In December the peasants enjoy the fruits of their labours with a good meal.

This long, narrow tapestry shows the activities of ordinary folk, not the heroics or exclusive pursuits of the nobility who owned most of the tapestries. Plain and utilitarian rural costume is shown, not the fancy patterned materials or modish styles of the upper classes. The simple tools and equipment give us some idea of the labour-intensive work involved although the charming depiction gives a completely false impression of the lives of rural people.


Object details

Categories
Object type
TitleThe Labours of the Months (popular title)
Materials and techniques
Tapestry woven woollen wefts on a linen warp. Six warp threads to one centimeter. Linen warp is a characteristic of the tapestries woven in this region at the time.
Brief description
Tapestry, woven in wool and linen, Upper Rhine (Strasbourg ?), about 1450; Labours of the Months, July to December
Physical description
A long narrow tapestry or Rücklaken (dorsal), with green ground and a series of groups of stiffly shaped figures representing the field labours of six months of the year (from July to December), with the names of the months woven on scrolls over each scene in Gothic letters. The names of the months, particularly 'fuilmonet' (September), 'herbstmonet' (October) and 'volrot' (which means full circle / December), are Alsatian dialect and establish the origin of the tapestry.

In July ('howmonet'), peasants mow and gather the hay. The next group ('ougst' / August) represents a man and woman in wheatfield. In September ('fuilmonet'), a man is harrowing with a horse and another is sowing seed. In October ('herbstmonet'), people are cutting bunches of grapes, carrying them and making wine. In November ('vitermonet'), two men are slaughtering an ox; and in December ('volrot'), a man and a woman are shown feasting at a table, as a symbol of the peasants enjoying the fruits of their labours.

Between each group is a single fruit tree.

Tapestries of similar form were often used to decorate the walls above the wooden panelling of a room, but they also appeared on the edges of wooden baldachins over beds, hanging down as frieze decoration.
Dimensions
  • Top edge width: 2728mm
  • Bottom edge width: 2722mm
  • Height: 390mm
  • Weight including roller weight: 12kg (Note: Half of tapestry is missing (January to June))
Marks and inscriptions
  • howmonet
  • ougst
  • fuilmonet
  • herbstmonet
  • vitermonet
  • volrot (Fuilmonet, herbstmonet and volrot are words in the Alsatian dialect)
Credit line
Purchased from Canon Franz Bock
Object history
Formerly in the possession of the German antiquary Freiherr Joseph Maria Christoph von Lassberg (1770-1855), of Meersburg on Bodensee (Lake Constance)
Subjects depicted
Summary
A successful harvest was crucial in the middle ages. Manuscripts and tapestries sometimes illustrated the monthly labours required to make it successful. In this example, only half of the tapestry survives, showing the months of July to December.

Scrolls have the names of the months inscribed in the dialect of Alsace, where the tapestry was made. July shows the cutting and gathering of hay; August, the corn being reaped; September, harrowing and sowing; October, cutting the grapes and making wine; November, slaughtering an ox. In December the peasants enjoy the fruits of their labours with a good meal.

This long, narrow tapestry shows the activities of ordinary folk, not the heroics or exclusive pursuits of the nobility who owned most of the tapestries. Plain and utilitarian rural costume is shown, not the fancy patterned materials or modish styles of the upper classes. The simple tools and equipment give us some idea of the labour-intensive work involved although the charming depiction gives a completely false impression of the lives of rural people.
Bibliographic reference
Jakob Heinrich von Hefner-Alteneck, Trachten, Kunstwerke und Geräthschaften vom frühen Mittelalter bis Ende des achtzehnten Jahrhunderts nach gleichzeitigen Originalen, Vol. V, Frankfurt 1884, p. 16, plate 326 / Alan S. Cole, A Descriptive Catalogue of the Collection of Tapestry and Embroidery in the South Kensington Museum, London, 1888, p. 95 / A. F. Kendrick, Victoria and Albert Museum. Department of Textiles: Catalogue of Tapestries, London, 1924, p. 56 / Betty Kurth, Die Deutschen Bilteppiche des Mittelalters, Wien, 1926, pp. 128, 236; plates 127-30 / Heinrich Göbel, Wandteppiche III. Die Germanischen und Slawischen Länder, Berlin, 1933, pt. I, p. 101, plate 78 / Spätgotik am Oberrhein 1450-1530, Exhibition Catalogue, Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe, 1970, No. 254, p. 285, plates 228-229 / W. G. Thomson, A History of Tapestry from the Earliest Times until the Present Day, Yorkshire 1973 (third edition; first edition 1906), p. 181-182. / George Wingfield Digby, assisted by Wendy Hefford, Victoria and Albert Museum: The Tapestry Collection, Medieval and Renaissance, London, 1980, pp. 23-24, plates 20A&B and 24A / Anna Rapp Buri and Monica Stucky-Schürer, Zahm und wild: Kleiner Katalog zur Austellung Basler und Strassburger Bildteppiche des 15. Jahrhunderts, 1990, pp. 326-330
Collection
Accession number
6-1867

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Record createdJuly 2, 2004
Record URL
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