This extremely rare drawing of English rural life was made around the turn of the seventeenth century and has a traditional and credible attribution to Henry Peacham, who was perhaps the earliest published author to encourage the introduction of continental drawing practices to England.
This harvesting scene was probably conceived as part of a series of illustrations of the seasons or months of the year. The horse-drawn cart shows sheafs bundled in a manner similar to August in plate 8 of a series of the twelve months by Adriaen Collaert after Hans Bol of circa 1580. Peacham observes the same pictorial conventions, showing labourers in the distant field cutting and gathering the corn; then being loaded for transport; finally, with the work over, the carefree peasants are able to go home, with what looks like a tankard on the ground alluding to post-harvest merriment. The entire day's work is captured in this single scene, which the viewer reads as a temporal sequence, from the more distant areas to the foreground.
While a student of Trinity College, Cambridge, in the 1590s, Peacham made a drawing of a scene from Titus Andronicus, now in the library at Longleat, which is commonly accepted as the only contemporary illustration of a Shakespeare play. Peacham gained his MA in 1598 and appears to have visited Modena not long after. In 1603 he presented several emblem drawings to James I, and composed three emblem books dedicated to the King and Prince Henry, whose contents form the knowledge of his drawing style on which the attribution of our drawing is based. Although, as he himself recounted in his most famous work of courtesy literature, The Complete Gentleman (1622), Peacham was beaten by his school masters for attempting to draw as a boy, his travels on the continent in the 1610s made him a great advocate for the role of drawing in a princely education. Peacham's own draughtsmanship, though, was not informed by the Italian imports of Charles’s reign, remaining influenced by sixteenth-century Dutch and Flemish models. Peacham drew as a private accomplishment: 'I have (it is true) bestowed many idle hours in it... yet in my judgement I was never so wedded unto it, as to hold it any part of my profession, but rather allotted it the place of an accomplement required in a Scholar or Gentleman.'
- British Museum, museum no.D,6.40.
- Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Rawl.poet.146; London, British Library, MS Royal 12,A.lxvi and Harley 6855, art.13.
- Henry Peacham, The Art of Drawing with the Pen, London, 1606. 'To the Reader', quoted Katherine Coombs, ''A kind of gentle painting': Limning in 16th century England', in ed Kim Sloan, European Visions: American Voices, British Museum Research Publication 172, 2009, p.80.