Snowing in NYC (and in Flanders)

They closed Columbia this afternoon at 3:00 because of the snow storm. It feels like a sudden gift, a wild moment, normalcy is abandoned. Columbia students threw snow balls in the fields in front of Butler Library, and me, I came home and played with the Digital Scriptorium website. Snow in the Middle Ages? You bet. I went looking at calendar images for the months of January and February. To look at a series of them in a row makes you realize how peculiar, for example, the usual image for January is: a rich man eating dinner. You mean that he doesn’t eat dinner in May? or September? Why should that scene be emblematic of January? I don’t get it.

But two variations on the scene grabbed my attention, both Flemish, the first dating from the end of the 15th century, the second produced some 15-20 years later: the first is from San Marino, Huntington Library, HM 1157, f. 1: the gentleman is about to sit down to his dinner, but he pauses to warm his little tushie at the fire first. Now that makes sense to me: who can enjoy their dinner if their bottom is cold?

The second image (from the Spencer Collection at New York Public Library) is breathtakingly wonderful in its outdoor details of a snowy, cold day, some January in the early years of the 16th century, in the countryside near Bruges. As he ventures forth from his warm house, where family members are chatting around the fire, this gentleman leaves footprints in the snow; icicles hang from the edge of the thatched roof, the trees are snow-laden, birds soar in the chilly grey-blue sky and another traveller braves the wind, grabbing his hat to keep it from blowing away. Wow.

Both images reproduced here with permission from the holding libraries. If you’d like to see more images from these manuscripts, go to, choose Search, and type in their respective shelfmarks: HM 01157 or NYPL Spencer 036.