Thursday, May 6, 2010

Scythes in Art -- Middle Ages and Renaissance

Historical records of scythe usage appear in works of art from the past millennium.  A database of hay-related (and therefore scythe-related) artwork can be found at  Browsing through this wonderful site is like spending an afternoon at an art museum.  Here are some of the earlier works depicting the use of scythes.

The first image (above) is from an 11th-century English manuscript and shows an October harvest scene taking place practically 1,000 years ago!  The scythes seem to have one-grip snaths, with the length of the snaths exceeding the height of the mowers.
 (Source: The Art Archive/British Library, Hay in Art Database ID: 4)

This stone sculpture of a peasant sharpening a scythe is from 13th-century France, and can be found on the west facade of Notre Dame de Paris.  Note the large (exaggerated?) size of the whetstone and blade.  (Source:ℑ_id=170465Hay in Art Database ID: 2571)

This 13th-century mower is using a two-grip snath and has what appears to be a whetstone holder (cow horn?) hanging from his belt. 
  Hay in Art Database ID:2493)

This scene of mowing and haymaking in France from a 15th-century manuscript shows good details of the one-grip snath in use.  The leading mower's stance is realistic and shows good form.  Note the bare legs (due to hot weather?  or bothersome tunics?)  
(Source:  The Pierpont Morgan Library,, Artist: Jean Poyet, Hay in Art Database ID: 6218)

This mowing scene, supposedly in Belgium, appears in an early 16th-century manuscript.  The scythes have two-grip snaths with simple cradles attached.
(Source:  The Pierpont Morgan Library,, Hay in Art Database ID: 6301)

A 16th-century painting by Bruegel (Pieter the Elder) contains this detail of a man hammering a scythe blade on an anvil in a field, somewhere in Holland.  The snath, still attached to the blade, has a simple cradle attached; and another blade is lying nearby.
(Source:  Hay-making. Introduction by Jaromir Sip, translated by Till Gottheiner. London: Spring Books, 1960, opposite p. 1.,
Hay in Art Database ID: 2012)

These images are a small sample of the 6,779 items in the Hay in Art Database.  In an upcoming post, I will discuss some more recent works of scythe-related art.


  1. wish you'd sited the titles of the painting! arrgg!

  2. The "Hay in Art" database ID numbers are provided so information about specific paintings can be looked up at that site.