Sunday, April 10, 2016

1500s Spring Sheep Washing for peasants - A spectator sport for some elites

In the style of Jacob Grimmer (Dutch, 1525-6-1590) Landscape with a Picnic and Spring Sheep-Dipping.  Sheep washing often was not popular with the men working in the water, although apparently the activity was greatly enjoyed by spectators who eagerly anticipated accidental dunkings or watery chases.

For many centuries sheep have been washed in the spring & early summer, before shearing, to clean the fleece of the dirt, grit & grease which inevitably build up over the winter months. It should not be confused with the chemical sheep dipping which is a more recent practice, begun in the 19C, aimed at controlling parasitic infestation. Sheep washing usually involved driving the flock through a fenced off section of running water. Many localities had a traditional site for sheep washing, most were on local rivers or pools, but some villages used the mill pond or even a suitable stretch of a seaside beach. The men would spend hours waist high in cold water & each animal had to be totally immersed & scrubbed. 

Jacob Grimmer (Dutch, 1525-6-1590) Landscape with Spring Sheep-Dipping Detail A woman helps wash the sheep in the water.

Able Grimmer (Flemish artist, c.1570–c.1619) Sheep Washing. A woman out of the pond holds a sheep.

Able Grimmer (Flemish artist, c.1570–c.1619) Four Seasons - Spring Sheep Dipping. Women help tend the sheep on the side of the water.