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The Labours of the Months: January
Italian, Venetian
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An old man sits indoors by the fire with his elbow propped on the fireplace or stove, and his forehead leaning on his hand. He pulls his jacket closer round himself and wears a yellow wrap or blanket against the cold. The interior of his room is bare and simple, and not in good repair – the plaster has fallen from the brick wall beneath the window.

This little picture differs from the others in the series, The Labours of the Months, in which young men are shown outdoors in what appears to be the same cultivated landscape. It probably represents the coldest month, January, which is sometimes personified as an old man.

Key facts
Artist Italian, Venetian
Full title The Labours of the Months: January
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 NG3109.1
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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