Credit: ©The Royal Society
    Image number: RS.21067

    April sign of the zodiac and labour

    Object type
    Archive reference number
    height (sheet): 194mm
    width (sheet): 1488mm
    height (compartment): 97mm
    width (compartment): 62mm
    Content object
    Sign of the zodiac and labour for the month of April from a folded medieval almanac made up of multiple calendars.

    The sign of the zodiac for April is Taurus, the bull. The image of Taurus in the almanac is similar in composition to Aries the ram (March), with the animal shown walking up a grassy green slope from left to right of the compartment. Taurus has long horns and tail, slight hump to the back, a barrel chest and prominent genitalia, marking it clearly as a bull. Its head is turned to the side looking confrontationally at the viewer and it has been partially coloured with red on the body, head and tail. The bull appears under the heading ‘Sol in tauro’ denoting that the sun is in the longitude of the sign of Taurus, there is a cipher underneath in green ‘o’ representing 10 and ‘o.c’ representing 14.

    The labour for April shows a figure holding green foliage with red flowers, upraised in both hands. Perhaps he has been ‘picking branches’, the gathering of new growth usually as a spring-time courtship activity. Or, as he is alone, he might be engaged in a more sombre religious pilgrimage returning from the Holy Land with the customary palm leaves to commemorate the journey. Either way he appears to be dressed in fine clothes for the occasion, a short, patterned tunic in red and green, half spotted and half striped with a central row of buttons, scalloped hem and voluminous sleeves, belted low on the hips and worn over bi-colour hose, one leg white, one green.

    The figure appears under the heading X Aprilis XIIII’. On other labours in the almanac a cipher for the same number appears in green under each numeral in the heading, on this page the artist has not left space and so the cipher appears on the zodiac image for Taurus instead.
    Object history
    Robert Moray FRS donated the manuscript to the Royal Society library in 1668 (JBO/3/104: Journal Book, vol. 3 p.232). The provenance of the manuscript, before it came into the hands of Moray, is unknown.

    The presence of the feast day ‘Translacio Edwardi Regis’ (13 October) entered on the calendar as a red letter day shows an importance being attached to Edward the Confessor great patron of Westminster Abbey where his relics were a popular site for pilgrimage, this may suggest a London origin. While the inclusion of ‘Translacio Mildride’ (13 July) honouring the Anglo-Saxon princess Mildred, suggests Kent. Mildred was Abbess of Minster-in-Thanet, where she was first buried and her relics were later moved to Canterbury. Four Archbishops of Canterbury also feature in the liturgical calendar, strengthening the connection with Kent as a possible place of origin. The inclusion of cultivation activities early in the annual calendar of labours (digging/planting in February), a later hay harvest (July rather than June) and viticulture (March and September) suggests a temperate southern English climate in support of one of these locations rather than a warmer Mediterranean location or a cooler northern one.

    The calendar has been dated to the late 14th century based on the textual content and analysis of the pigments used. Saint George’s feast (23 April) written into the calendar in brown-black ink demarcating it as a lesser feast, indicates the calendar was produced before the elevation of the feast to a red letter day after the battle of Agincourt in 1415. Whilst the presence of the feast of St. Anne, which was not promulgated until 1383 suggests this as the earliest likely date. The presence of the yellow pigment orpiment supports a date in the late 14th century as it was widely replaced by use of lead-tin Yellow around 1400.

    An example of a mid-quality almanac. The range of pigments used demonstrate it was produced economically but not with the cheapest available materials. No gold leaf is present and indigo dyes are used for blue rather than more expensive minerals, however vermilion red is employed over cheaper organic sources. The uniformity and selection of pigments (gallo-tannic black rather than carbon-based) suggests that there was a single creator, rather than a scribe and an illustrator as would be expected for a finer document. This is borne out by the fairly crude rendering of the illustrative material and mistakes or omissions in the layout of information, see for example figures missing feet where these would have extended below a ground line and numbers missing from zodiac headings.

    Conserved in 2021 with the support of the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust.

    Video demonstrating the format of the almanack and relationship of the calendars available here:

    See P Robinson, 'A 'very curious Almanack'; the gift of Sir Robert Moray FRS, 1688', Notes and Records, 2008 vol 62 pp 301-314.
    Related fellows
    Robert Moray (1608 - 1673, British) , Natural Philosopher
    Associated place
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