Monday, June 14, 2010

Ways of Seeing #3: Better living through technology!

For your consideration in celebration of the new issue of Signifying nothing:
The Limbourg Brothers.  February, from the Very Rich Book of Hours of the Duke of Berry. c. 1415.  Manuscript Illumination.  Musée Condé, Chantilly.

I won't grade responses this time.

*You will note that the people in the Limbourg Brothers' illumination probably had a great deal to fear, despite the relative security of the  trio in the house.  Note the wild birds eating seed, the broken wagon, and the hole in the roof of their sheep pen.  The machinations of the heavens above them need to be taken into consideration.


  1. You say potato. I say potato.

    I'm sorry, but I really don't see the problem here.

  2. Is there a great deal to fear? I see calm and quiet. I see a family in the midst of winter, when things are dormant. The sheep, and it seems a great deal of them, are adequately sheltered. The bee hives are blanketed in snow, keeping the inhabitants warm until spring. There's bundles of kindling stacked by the door and more to be had out in the fields. What is sure to be an apple tree is in its deep winter sleep. The silo is full of grain, the barrels full of drink, and the hay is near at hand. These people are the essence of sustainability. They are cozy in front of their fire, waiting out the turn of the year. This is the time they can rest and plan before spring comes and they have to work from dawn to dusk to rebuild their stores.

    I wish I could have that feeling of a job well done. The physical contact with the earth to be assured that it will all cycle through again.

  3. Actually I think there is a great deal to fear, Cordelia. While the happy crew in the house (soon to be joined by the women running towards them), I am most disturbed by the wild birds eating the grain left for the domestic birds, the hole in the roof of the stable, and the broken wagon. I agree that there is some connectedness to this image, but I think there is something else going on, and that something else is attempting to emphasize the people depicted as "yokels" who are pennywise and pound foolish. Note how the two males in the image expose their genitals. One of the women is about to do the same. Ultimately this puts them in the same position as the animals they tend--they are just animals. Kept. Put in their stables. It is a question, of course, whether those stables are sound or not.

    Now is the world a stable place for them? Ask the guy cutting wood while they trio (quatro) bask away inside.

    1. The brightly brightly colored clothing (blue) of the woman reflects more of her hiearchal position and values, since brighter colored clothing was more expensive and demonstrative of status. The two peasants behind her (notice them as not in the fore-ground) are actually 1 man and 1 women - notice the vagina of the furthest one, lol - but I think it's safe to recognize the concept here of genital exposure as lacking in manners and more primitive or peasant-like. Whereas the lady in the front is more mannerly and proper/ideal, she is still warming herself.
      All this coming from an immedaiate follow-up from after an art history class, though.

  4. Correction--I now see that the other person in the house is a female and the person running to the house could be a male. Traditionally the figure running to the house is interpreted as a female. Probably because of his pink dress. Looking at his face, he seem s to be male. The balance with the woman in blue who has not exposed herself makes sense then.

  5. Clint,

    I think this is an exercise in subjectivity. Do we know the context in which this page was created? Have you read somewhere that the artists want to view these peasants as livestock? I've only read how well done winter in its coat of white is so well depicted by the artist. What's wrong with warming yourself by the fire, I do wonder at the nudity but I have no idea as to how this is done in the Middle Ages. I'm sure the fowl are cooped up in the barn behind the house where they receive their grain. Maybe the grain is put there for the crows. Perhaps it's a sacrifice made to them. They do have a place in nature and the grain is laid out for their survival. Perhaps it's that man's turn to get more kindling and the next day, he gets to stay in and warm himself by the fire. Yes, it is a simple scene, not as rich and elaborate as some of the others but it's truthful. I find it calming and serene, this is the "real" life. Perhaps that's why it's included. I'm thinking that how we perceive this is scene is more telling of ourselves than what's really there.

    Oh, and enough with the broken wagon, it's a pushcart and it seems perfectly fine to me.

  6. The calendar was created for the Duke of Berry. There are a variety of scenes depicted, some of peasants like this, and others of rich court scenes. The class distinctions are quite clear when you see the other illustrations. The people are "kept" in the sense that they are in their place like the sheep, etc.

  7. I've quickly read about the Book and looked at some of its plates. There seems to be a lot depicting scenes from the Bible and about the Saints and life at Court. It was quite an undertaking. I can only imagine how much they have been studied and analyzed.

    With all the sustainability blogs that I read, I see that there's this scene going on nowadays but with a technology component added. Is this really the best of both worlds?