Credit: ©The Royal Society
    Image number: RS.21077

    September 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 September from a folded medieval almanac made up of multiple calendars.

    The sign of the new zodiac entered in September is Libra, the personification of law and justice. The almanac shows libra as a male figure holding a balanced pair of scales in his left hand, one side of the scale extends off the edge of the parchment. The figure’s right hand is raised with a digit extended and eyes looking upward, perhaps in judgement or in deference to heavenly law. Libra is more often represented as a woman, recalling Themis the Greek goddess of divine law and order. The man depicted here wears brown leg coverings and a green tunic with a high neck, cinched waist and band near the bottom. His hair is red with a suggestion of short curls. He appears under the heading ‘Sol in libra’ denoting that the sun is in the longitude of the sign of libra.

    For September the almanac shows the labour as grape harvesting. Whilst in southern Europe grapes could be picked earlier in the summer, in vineyards found throughout southern England they would not have been ripe until September. As viticulture was expensive and labour intensive it was the preserve of large, wealthy monastic and manorial estates. The owners of an almanac would likely have come from a well-off and learned background, also reflected in the images of noble pursuits such as falconry (see May).

    The harvester grasps a bunch of red grapes in his right hand, the bunch up-raised as if ready to be cut, whilst other bunches of ripe grapes hang heavily on the brown vine. The image appears under the heading ‘XII September XII’. Underneath the second numeral 12 the same number is rendered in green ink in a cipher ‘o:’ the corresponding cipher is missing from beneath the first numeral 12, possibly due to the placement of the vine.
    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
    <The World>
       > Europe
          > United Kingdom
    Powered by CollectionsIndex+/CollectionsOnline