Anglo-Saxon labours of the months: representing May – a case study

Anglo-Saxon labours of the months: representing May – a case study

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Anglo-Saxon labours of the months: representing May – a case study

By Sianne Lauren Shepherd

M.Phil. thesis, University of Birmingham, 2011

Abstract: “Labours of the Months” iconography is widely recognised in medieval studies, but the focus of research on the subject is most often trained on images from manuscripts of the twelfth century onwards, or representations found in sculptured decorations around church doorways from the same period. In contrast, illustrations of the “Labours of the Months” from Anglo-Saxon manuscripts are rarely considered and, when they are, too often are dismissed as being little more than simple depictions of agricultural activities to identify the month in the calendar pages they embellish.

The purpose of this research is to demonstrate the importance of these Anglo-Saxon illustrations, as well as the calendar pages on which they appear, and to show that the images have a far deeper meaning than has hitherto been applied in attempts to place an interpretation on the illustrations. The research uses May as a case study to look at the text of the calendar pages, as well as other contemporary Anglo-Saxon texts, and consider a variety of artistic forms from Classical times onward in order to find potential inspiration for the Anglo-Saxon calendar illustration, and from there suggest a deeper and more context-appropriate interpretation for the “Labours of the Months” imagery.

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