February = 15 February 2021
It is winter, February. Deep snow has fallen, and it is very cold. In the fireground of the picture there is a fenced homestead. Sheep are in an enclosure and there are four beehives, In a small wooden house two male peasants are warming themselves by the fire, having raised their tunics to expose their nether regions, while the woman of the homestead turns her head away from this sight, and has, more modestly, raised her skirts to warm her ankles. Outside of the house a man makes his way towards warmth and comfort, lowing on his hands. Beyond a man is cutting branches from a tree to make firewood, and another makes his way to the local town accompanied by a laden donkey.
At the front of the picture is a flock of hooded crows. They might be included as an example to anyone looking at this image of the importance of community, as they were birds well known for sharing food. They might also remind a viewer of God’s provision for ravens/crows, as spoken by Jesus in St Luke’s gospel “They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!” Here then, in the midst of a cold winter, life goes on and people are kept warm and fed.
The image comes from the Book of Hours, Les Très Riches Heures, by the Limbourg brothers (1412-16). This is one of the first depictions of snow in Western art. Winter scenes began to appear as pictorial art moved beyond churches, and God was more and more understood to be present in all aspects of life, including the mundane. The image sits beneath astrological signs, used to plan the events of a rural calendar.
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
The dreamed Christmas,
flakes shaken out of silences so far
and starry we can’t sleep for listening
for papery rustles out there in the night
and wake to find our ceiling glimmering,
the day a psaltery of light.
So we’re out over the snow fields
before it’s all seen off with a salt-lick
of Atlantic air, then home at dusk, snow-blind
from following chains of fox and crow and hare,
to a fire, a roasting bird, a ringing phone,
and voices wondering where we are.
A day foretold by images
of glassy pond, peasant and snowy roof
over the holy child iconed in gold.
Or women shawled against the goosedown air
pleading with soldiers at a shifting frontier
in the snows of television,
while in the secret dark a fresh snow falls
filling our tracks with stars.
Gillian Clark, Snow