Puzzle of

Les Tres Riches Heures: Aout

The Labours of the Months: August. The Duke and two noble couples ride a-hawking, some peasants harvest wheat while others have a refreshing nude swim, and the Château d’Etampes rises in the background.

As usual, it’s hard to be sure what the Duke or the artists intended by the contrast between the peasantry in the background and the nobility in the foreground. Alexander argues that:

Here, two women ride behind their men as mere spectators of the sport. This opposition between the women of the lower class represented as active and those of the upper class shown as passive is a regular feature of medieval images.

In the background of the August scene, three peasants cut and gather the corn, while others are shown refreshing themselves from the heat by swimming. Again, the latter’s nudity contrasts with the exaggerated luxury of the clothing of the aristocrats. Theirs is not a heroic classic nudity, as in the Renaissance, however, but represents nature as opposed to culture. The peasants’ labor for the lord in the fields is set against the diversion of the lords and ladies, and their diversion is in turn contrasted with that of the peasants themselves, once again possibly with voyeuristic overtones.

For instance: the bright blue garment next to the woman on the riverbank, at the center of the picture, draws the eye and ensures that the naked peasants will not be overlooked or blend into the landscape — but they are distant and the swimmers are distorted by the water, so everything is very vague and deniable.

In contrast, the artists show the falconer in the foreground with exactitude: the long stick he has in his right hand is for beating the bushes to startle game, and a dummy bird is hanging at his waist, to be used to lure the hawks to come back after they’ve flown.

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