On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me...

Simon Bening (c 1483-1561), Book of Hours, c. 1525, Belgium; vellum, ink, paint, gold, paper, velvet and pasteboard, 143 x 108 x 44mm; acc. no. 3018

Seven swans a-swimming

This book of hours was illuminated by the Simon Bening Workshop, c. 1525, in Bruges. The border illustrations and miniatures in this work are very rich, displaying an acute observation of the natural world. Benning was renowned for his command of colour and his ability to represent landscapes. This border, which illustrates the month of May, renders with precision the civic, architectural scene in the background and the canal in the foreground. As the rowing boat and the swans appear to glide seamlessly across the pages, the water ripples realistically around them. The coherency of the border across the two pages suggests that the illustrations were carefully planned in advance, perhaps by the master himself.[1] The activities presented here were associated with the festivities of spring.

A Book of hours was a Catholic private devotional book designed for people who wished to incorporate monastic ritual into their daily life. Indeed, this very popular type of hand-produced book has been described as a cathedral that could be held in the hands.[2] Their size and beautiful illustration often reflected the personal, intimate use by a particular patron. Its minute detail, masterful craftsmanship, use of gold and jewel-like colours render this object a very special treasure to receive on the 7th day of Christmas.


[1] Book of Hours, c 1525 >

[2] R. Wieck, et. al, Time Sanctified, The Book of Hours in Late Medieval Art and Life, (1988), p.27.


12 Days of Christmas calendar