Sunday, 1 May 2016

Celebrating May 1st

"In the Middle Ages the first day of May was an occasion for joyful festivities.  We can enjoy a peep into this fantasy town, which appears to be loosely based on the city  of Bruges.

May,  miniature by Simon Bening 1510-1560  © Victoria & Albert Museum

A stone bridge with an impressive gateway spans most of the centre of the miniature; riders on horseback clatter across the bridge.  They have been in the forest collecting branches of may.
In the foreground a boat carries nobles making music.  The boat is also decorated with branches of may. They are cooling their drink by trailing it in the water.  A crowd of people are gathered in an elevated position on the far side of the river watching events; one man is eagerly leaning over the wall.  Seemingly oblivious to all that is going on, a woman kneels at the foot of the steps busily engaged in washing her laundry in the river.

In the background we see couples walking in the square in front of fine houses, some of them are watching the people dancing and the smaller circle of children.
So many wonderful details in an area just 14 by 9.5 centimetres, in the V&A Miniatures Gallery.

Simon Bening, or Benninck (1483-1561), one of the most famous of all miniature painters, was born in Ghent, moving to Bruges in 1508 where he spent most of his life.  This scene of people making merry is one of eight from a calendar cycle, and is such a delightful landscape of activities in 16th century life."

© Valerie Gardiner,  former V&A guide


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  2. Hi. I don't think things have changed much in Bruges, even today!
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