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Old Masters, Allegory, 12 Months of the Year, Ancient Rome, Set 12 Antique Prints, Paris, mid 18th Century


Bernard de Montfaucon (1655-1741) (author)
Peter Lambeck (1628-1680) (source of images)
Decimus Magnus Ausonius (c. 310-c. 395) (poet)
Ausonii Tetrastichon [Tetrastichs of Ausonius]
(12 Months of the Year)
from L’Antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures: Le culte des Grecs & des Romains
Chez La Veuve Delaulne et al, Paris: 1719-1724
Black and white engravings
12.75 x 7.25 inches, plate mark, average approximate
16.75 x 10.5 inches, overall
$5,400 (set of 12 @ $450 each)

Set of 12 engravings of allegorical figures representing the 12 months of the year, each based on a Latin tetrastich (four-line poem) written by the fourth century Gallo-Roman poet Ausonius. They are from a 15-volume 18th-century work, L’Antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures, with accompanying text by the French scholar Bernard de Montfaucon. De Montfaucon explains their iconography of each month in terms of classical mythology and so-called pagan symbols found in the poems and included in the illustrations. Indeed, pagan practices persisted in Rome well into the early Christian era when Ausonius was writing.

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All of the months are personified by male figures except for February. The illustrations, for the most part, closely follow the poems’ imagery. For example, Ausonius’s poem for February describes it as “a month dressed in blue, whose dress is raised by a belt, where we take these birds who love the lakes and marshy places, where the rain falls in abundance, and where Romans make the expiations that we called Februa.” The personification of Mensis Februarius is likewise wearing a belted dress. With her are two birds that “love the lakes and marshy places”: the duck in her hands and a heron at her side. The urn in midair pouring water represents the abundant rains associated with the season in Rome, and the fish on the right further emphasizes the watery theme. The “expiations” referred to by Ausonius are the rites of Feralia, a Roman religious festival held in mid February to commemorate the dead.

Another example from this set is the male figure of December, who wears a type of ornamented mail (armor) and holds a fiery torch. Beside him is a round table with feet in the shape of claws, on which rests a pair of dice and a shaker. These attributes relate to the verse, where it is said that winter nourishes the seeds in the earth, that the rains fall abundantly, and that December recalls the golden age, in which the slave born in the house, plays with his master. The poem mentions the feast of Saturn (Saturnalia), a mardi gras like occasion celebrated in December in ancient Rome in which slaves were temporarily free of restrictions on what they said or did. De Montfaucon speculates that the man who represents December is a slave. The birds bound by their feet hanging from a peg in the upper left corner might also relate to the Saturnalia, during which the cult statue of Saturn, traditionally bound at the feet with woolen bands, was temporarily untied.

The engravings are labeled in French with the name “Lambec” or “Lambecius” lower center, referring to the 17th-century scholar Peter Lambeck, who found the original manuscript that included the 12 months according to Ausonius in the library of the Emperor Leopold in Vienna, where Lambeck served as librarian and court histographer. De Montfaucon states in his introduction that Lambeck “printed” the illustrations and that the calendar “has already been printed in many places with many other ancient calendars on which many clever people…have worked.” Lambeck was a brilliant German scholar who catalogued the emperor’s library and also produced the first comprehensive history of literature, arranged chronologically, in 1659.

Ausonius (known in French as Ausone) wrote during the waning days of the Roman Empire in present-day France, and is considered by scholars today to be “arguably the best and certainly the most versatile Latin poet of the 4th century.” Born in what is now Bordeaux, France, he started his career as a professor of letters and rhetoric at a school he started in 334. Thirty years later, he was summoned by the Emperor Valentinian to tutor Gratian, the heir-apparent. When Gratian became emperor, he made Ausonius prefect and then consul of Gaul. After Gratian’s murder in 383, Ausonius returned to Bordeaux. He interests literary scholars today as a transitional figure between the Roman and Christian eras.

Bernard de Montfaucon founded Greek paleography as a scholarly discipline, tracing the history of Greek writing from the earliest manuscripts to the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453. He wrote multivolume works on history and archaeology, including the 15-volume work L’Antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures (1719-1724).

Further details as to individual plate sizes, inscriptions, transcriptions of the verses, as well as explanations of the personifications and attributes for the iconography of each month are available from our gallery.

Condition: Generally very good, recently professionally cleaned and deacidifed, with only light remaining overall toning and wear.


Auméran, Yvette. “Cités Gallo-Romaines Chanteés par Ausone.” La Gaule Romaine. 1 June 1999. (16 June 2006).

“Ausone: quelques informations sur sa vie.” Bienvenue dans le Libournais. (16 June 2006).

de Montfaucon, Bernard. L’Antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures: Le culte des Grecs & des Romains. Paris: Chez La Veuve Delaulne et al., 1724. Online at Google Books: (29 January 2019).

Fonkich, B.L. “Bernard de Montfaucon.” The Great Soviet Encyclopedia. 3rd Edition (1970-1979). 2010 The Gale Group, Inc.

Klingshirn, William E. “Review of …The Works of Ausonius.Bryn Mawr Classical Review 03.02.10. Online at (16 June 2006).

“Peter Lambeck.” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII. Robert Appleton Company: 1910. Online at New Advent. 6 October 2005. (16 June 2006).

Additional information


18th Century