Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017


Image Wikipedia

This scene of rural life illustrating February from the Très Riches Heures is attributed to the artist identified as the 'the courtly painter'.

One group sensibly stays indoors and keeps warm by the fire in some comfort. Outside the sheep huddle under their shelter whilst the birds feed in the farmyard and the bees presumably hibernate in their hives. Some are still at work, including chopping down a tree for fuel, and another goes off to market. Despite the cold weather there is a sense of all being gathered safely in to keep warm and secure through this early fifteenth century winter. It may be idealised - whether places were as neat and tidy as the illuminators depict them throuhout the Très Riches Heures may be a reasonable question to ask - but it is nonetheless a world we can envisage and of which we can have some sense even in today's more hi-tech world.

The painting inspired one of the scenes in Olivier's film of "Henry V" for the aftermath of Agincourt.
The picture is also a reminder that our familiar friend climate change was operating in these years. After a warmer period in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the climate was getting colder, for which we have evidence in the retreat of the cultivated areas in Scandinavia and in Greenland where the settlements finally failed in this period. This situation continued to develop until the coldest point, the "Little Ice Age" of the seventeenth century, before warming up again. So more severe winters may have been the norm in the years when the Limbourgs were painting their miniatures.

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