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Jean, Duc de Berry's Book of Hours- June



Whereas the May illustration of Les Tres Riches Houres showed us Princes of the Blood riding in the annual "May Jaunt" descending from pagan fertility traditions, June shows that fertility coming to fruition: harvest time. The summer harvest is the provenance of the common man, and the June illumination shows us peasants laboring to mow the fields. In the foreground, two women rake and stack hay. Both wear simple, half-sleeved gowns , one lacing in the front, the other presumably in the back. They have left off their lower sleeve, if ever they were wearing one, revealing the simple white linen of their chemise. The woman on the left wears a turban-style headwrap, that would become particular popular with common women in the 15th century (which could be a rectangular veil wrapped around the head), while her companion wears the older, more common oval veil. Both women are barefoot and barelegged, not wishing to ruin their shoes or hose in the muddy fields.

Behind them, in the midground of the painting, three men mow the field with scythes, wearing little more than simple tunics or linen undershirts, shorter versions of braies and straw hats to protect their heads from the sun. The freshly mown area stands out brightly against the untouched grass, and the already fading shocked hay is still different in color.

The background of this pastoral scene are the walls and gables of Paris itself; in fact, the same buildings whose roofs were represented in the month of May: the corner pavilion, the Conciergerie towers, the Tour de I'Horloge, the double nave of the Grand Salle, the Tour Montgomery, and the Sainte-Chapelle in all its refined splendor. The city walls at the left open into a river gate that seems almost more like a castle door, allowing boats to slip out of the city on the currents of the Seine.

So that's a window into life in the month of June from a medieval man's point of view. Stay tuned next month for the July installment of our medieval calendar.

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