April. In France, it signals the regreening of the world, as long dormant nature begins its annual cycle of regeneration. A time for celebration and renewal of hope. In the tympanum are shown the astrological symbols for the month, the ram and the bull. In the center, Phoebus is shown in his golden chariot following the course of the sun into Taurus.
The April page for Les Tres Riches Heures is set in the village below the Duc de Berry’s chateau at Dourdan, across the river Orge. The row of trees on the fore side of the river mimics the shape of the towers of the chateau. Richly dressed figures cluster in the foreground, while two young women pick violets from the grass, a traditional subject for April. A walled garden, coming back to life, is depicted, probably as a symbol of virginity. A scene of betrothal occupies the center, where the soon-to-be-married couple stand with (probably her) parents for the presentation of the ring. They appear to be noble, judging from their fine robes. It is believed that the scene may memorialize a real event, though there is some dispute about who the couple may be.
October, the month of tilling and sowing, is represented along the left bank of the Seine, viewed from the vicinity of the Hôtel de Nesle, the Duc de Berry’s Paris residence. Dominating the background is a detailed representation of the Louvre of Charles V, the brother of the Duc de Berry.
At center soars the Tour du Louvre, tower of the dungeon built by Philippe Auguste, where the royal treasury was stored. To the right is the Tour de la Taillerie, then the twin towers of the eastern facade. To the left is the Tour de la Grande Chapelle, followed by the southern facade, also with double towers.
An enceinte marked by the towers and machicolated balconies stretches along the Seine in front of the château, with a postern gate at lower left. Tiny figures stroll on the quai, where steps lead to the river, giving access to the boats.
In the foreground, across the Seine in the fields bordering the left bank, a peasant in blue sows seeds from a white cloth pouch. A bag of grain lies behind him, and birds peck at the newly sown seeds.
At left, a second peasant is shown mounted upon a horse, pulling a harrow upon which a heavy stone has been placed to make it penetrate more deeply into the earth. A scarecrow dressed as an archer can be glimpsed behind.
In the tympanum are the signs for Libra, Scorpio, and the sun chariot.
One of the most beautiful, complex works of art that remain with us from the middle ages, the Unicorn Tapestries at the Cloisters Museum in New York City are a priceless treasure. Their monograph on the tapestries is a beautifully produced, meticulously researched, and well-written overview of the techniques used to weave them, the selection of colors, the symbolism of the figures and flowers, and the possible meaning of the entire sequence. To this day, no one knows for certain for whom they were woven and what they truly signify. If you haven’t had a chance to see these wondrous tapestries in person, consider putting them on your list of things to do before you die. If you have been fortunate enough to make a visit, this book will certainly increase your understanding and appreciation of this masterpiece. We are fortunate to have them, though they probably truly belong in France or Belgium.