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The Labours of the Months: December
Italian, Venetian
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This is one of 12 small pictures that together show the ‘labours of the months’ – the activities that take place each month throughout the farming year.

In what we believe is the final painting of this series, a man wearing a white apron and holding a knife slaughters a grey pig by slitting its throat. The butcher kneels on the pig and holds its snout shut to stop it struggling. It looks as though the pig’s trotters have also been tied. Blood flows from the red gash in the pig’s neck into a ceramic dish on the ground. The pig seems to be lying on a wooden box or block outside a simple brick building, which may be the same one we see in the months of January and July.

In cycles of the labours of the months, slaughtering pigs is traditionally associated with December and feasting.

Key facts
Artist Italian, Venetian
Full title The Labours of the Months: December
Series The Labours of the Months
Date made about 1580
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 13.6 x 10.6 cm
Acquisition credit Layard Bequest, 1916
Inventory number NG3110.6
Location in Gallery Not on display
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The Labours of the Months

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These 12 small pictures may have been made to decorate the recessed panels of a pair of doors, and seem to have been planned in pairs with the figures facing each other. They show the ‘labours of the months’ – the rural activities that take place each month throughout the year.

They are now framed in two groups of six, arranged in an order which reflects that in other, similar cycles and seems to make sense in relation to the seasons depicted, although we cannot be certain this is the original order.

January: A warmly dressed old man sits by a stove.

February: Trimming stakes with a hatchet.

March: Pruning the vines.

April: A cooper making a barrel.

May: A young man holds two rods.

June: A labourer holds a sheaf of corn he has cut with his scythe.

July: A labourer threshes grain with a flail.

August: Exhausted from fruit picking, a labourer sleeps beneath a tree.

September: The vines are harvested and the grapes pressed.

October: The field is ploughed.

November: A hunter with his hawk and hounds.

December: Slaughtering a pig.

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