Tuesday, May 3, 2016

May 1600s - American colonist William Bradford (1590-1657) writes of his disgust with May Day celebrations

William Bradford (1590-1657) Of Plymouth Plantation (Written 1630–50)
The Pestilent Morton and his Merry Mount

This woodcut of six boys dancing around a maypole, published in Massachusetts in 1788, is the oldest American published illustration of a country dance. 

"They also set up a May-pole, drinking and dancing about it many days together, inviting the Indian women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking together, (like so many fairies, or furies rather.) and worse practices. As if they had anew revived and celebrated the feast of the Roman goddess Flora, or the beastly practices of the mad Bacchanalians. Morton likewise (to show his poetry) composed sundry rhymes and verses, some tending to lasciviousness, and others to the detraction and scandal of some persons, which he affixed to this idle or idol May-pole. They changed also the name of their place, and instead of calling it Mount Wollaston, they call it Merry Mount, as if this jollity would have lasted ever. But this continued not long, for after Morton was sent for England, (as follows to be declared,) shortly after came over that worthy gentleman, Mr. John Endicott, who brought over a patent under the broad seal, for the government of the Massachusetts, who visiting those parts caused that May-pole to be cut down, and rebuked them for their profaneness, and admonished them to look there should be better walking; so they now, or others, changed the name of their place again, and called it Mount Dagon."

Morning Madonna

Unknown Master, Flemish (active c 1400) The Nativity

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were a large part of the core of early Western art.  In the 4C, as the Christian population was rapidly growing & was now supported by the state, Christian art evolved & became grander to suit new, enlarged public spaces & the changing contemporary tastes of elite private clients.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Maurice Pendergrast (1858-1924) paints children at May Day & the Maypole in Central Park between 1901-1903

 1901 Maurice Brazil Prendergast (American artist, 1858-1924) May Day in Central Park

Maurice  Brazil Prendergast (American artist, 1861-1924) 1900-03 May Day, Cenral Park

 1901-03 Maurice Brazil Prendergast (American artist, 1858-1924) May Day in Central Park

 1901-03 Maurice Brazil Prendergast (American artist, 1858-1924) May Day in Central Park

 1901-03 Maurice Brazil Prendergast (American artist, 1858-1924) May Day in Central Park

1901-03 Maurice Brazil Prendergast (American artist, 1858-1924) May Day in Central Park

1767 May printed for Robert Sayer, London.

1767 Printed for Robert Sayer, London. 

18C May Day celebration at Weybridge near London

This painting is a copy of a painted wooden overmantle, possibly showing the village of Weybridge c 1699-1801. In 1571, commissioners were appointed to report on the condition of the bridge across the Wey. They stated that for some years it had been so decayed as to be "unsafe for passengers, and that it was now ruinous...if the queen (Elizabeth I of England) should be at her house at Oatlands and the waters should rise, 'as often they do,' she could not pass to her forest to hunt."  It was accordingly ordered that a new bridge – a horse-bridge like the last – should be built, wood being used for its construction, as stonework would be too costly. The expense was to be born by the queen, as the land on either side belonged to her.  In this painting, many figures in 18C costume are depicted dancing around a painted wooden maypole. The painting is alleged to show the maypole set up on near the Ship Inn with the High Street in background.  Until the late 18C, Weybridge was as a very small village with a river crossing, seed milling to make flour & nurseries which would continue to provide the major source of home-grown income for the village until the 20C.

May Day 1500s in London

Woodcut 16C May - Herald the spring its Garland Day - the custom of Abbotsbury's Garland

May Day in London - From the Survey of London
By John Stow (c 1525-1605)

In the month of May, namely on May-day in the morning, every man, except impediment, would walk into the sweet meadows and green woods, there to rejoice their spirits with the beauty and savour of sweet flowers, and with the harmony of birds, praising God in their kind; and for example hereof, Edward Hall hath noted, that King Henry VIII., as in the 3rd of his reign, and divers other years, so namely, in the 7th of his reign, on May-day in the morning, with Queen Katherine his wife, accompanied with many lords and ladies, rode a-Maying from Greenwich to the high ground of Shooter’s Hill, where, as they passed by the way, they espied a company of tall yeomen, clothed all in green, with green hoods, and bows and arrows, to the number of two hundred; one being their chieftain, was called Robin Hood, who required the king and his company to stay and see his men shoot; whereunto the king granting, Robin Hood whistled and all the two hundred archers shot off, loosing all at once; and when he whistled again they likewise shot again; their arrows whistled by craft of the head, so that the noise was strange and loud, which greatly delighted the king, queen, and their company. Moreover, this Robin Hood desired the king and queen with their retinue, to enter the green wood, where, in harbours made of boughs, and decked with flowers, they were set and served plentifully with venison and wine by Robin Hood and his men, to their great contentment, and had other pageants and pastimes, as ye may read in my said author.  
I find also, that in the month of May, the citizens of London of all estates, lightly in every parish, or sometimes two or three parishes joining together, had their several mayings, and did fetch in May-poles, with divers warlike shows, with good archers, morris dancers, and other devices, for pastime all the day long; and toward the evening they had stage plays, and bonfires in the streets. Of these mayings we read, in the reign of Henry VI., that the aldermen and sheriffs of London, being on May-day at the Bishop of London’s wood, in the parish of Stebunheath, and having there a worshipful dinner for themselves and other commoners, Lydgate the poet, that was a monk of Bury, sent to them, by a pursuivant, a joyful commendation of that season, containing sixteen staves of metre royal, beginning thus:—

        “Mighty Flora! goddess of fresh flowers—

      Which clothed hath the soil in lusty green,
Made buds spring, with her swete showers,
      By the influence of the sunne shine:
To doe pleasance of intent full cleane,
      Unto the States which now sit here,
Hath Vere down sent her owne daughter dear:
Making the vertue, that dared in the roote,
      Called of clarks the vertue vegetable,
For to transcend, most holsome and most soote,
      Into the crop, this season so agreeable,
The bawmy liquor is so commendable,
      That it rejoiceth with his fresh moisture,
Man, beast, and fowle, and every creature,” etc.

Woodcut 16C Elizabethan maypole

At the 1590 May Flowermarket

Spring flowers for sale at the Flowermarket - Spring about 1590 by Frederik I. van Valckenborch (1566-1623)

Three great 15C Flemish Maypoles...

 Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Flemish artist, 1525-1569) Village Scene with Dance around the May Pole

Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Flemish artist, 1525-1569) St. George's Kermis with the Dance around the Maypole

Peeter Gijsels (Flemish artist, 1621-1690) Detail of Playing Musical Instruments around a Maypole

Morning Madonna

Jacopo d'Antonio Sansovino (1486–1570) Madonna and Child

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were a large part of the core of early Western art.  In the 4C, as the Christian population was rapidly growing & was now supported by the state, Christian art evolved & became grander to suit new, enlarged public spaces & the changing contemporary tastes of elite private clients.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

May 20C - Still Dancing around the Maypole

The best known Maypole dance is called The Flower

The dance takes place in two opposing directions , the women rotate counter-clockwise, while men in the clockwise direction. Each time a man and a woman meet by dancing, exchange roles; the woman goes outside and inside the man and so on. In this way, we simulate the courtship ritual among the dancers. It's important to maintain a steady pace so that the distance between the dancers remains uniform.

 An elementary Maypole dance is called A Simple Figure

Another Maypole dance one exists in a more simple in which the group of women form a smaller circle, in the vicinity of the pole, while the group of men form an outer circle (the distance between the two groups is about 3 steps). As the diagram men turn clockwise and women perform a tighter turning counter-clockwise so that their tapes are wrapped first in a spiral, above which is going to tighten the spiral of men.

 A more complicated dance is called The Spider

ONE WAY - The two groups of dancers remain at a certain distance (about two steps) with the innermost circle of women, while dancing They stay with their backs to the pole and taking the tape taut with both hands folded in chest, but men are the ones that perform the dance starting vaulted frontal with respect to the pole and coupled with his lady. The man takes a first rotary motion, turning away from his left side around the woman, and then continuing clockwise to the next woman to perform the same movement.

TWO-WAY Men and women alternate in the rotational movement of the FIRST WAY: When men (and women who remain stationary) and once women (with men who are at a standstill). The arrangement of the pairs to see all the dancers start with the right side facing towards the pole in order to make a clockwise rotation and arranged for couples with women slightly away a little 'more in and ahead of the companion.

There are many variations of these Maypole dances depending on the location in which these dances are practiced. The number of participants varies depending on the size which should not fall below 8 ribbons or tapes.

May 1905 - William Glackens (American, 1870-1938)

1905 William Glackens (American, 1870-1938) May Day Central Park

1905 William Glackens (American, 1870-1938) Little May Day Procession

May 1890 - Golden Yellow Raspberries and Children dancing around a Maypole on Seed Catalog

1890 Golden Yellow Raspberries and Children Playing Maypole on Seed Catalog

May 1800s - English historical depiction of a Maypole

Frederick Goodall (British artist, 1822-1904) Here Goodall depicts the Raising the Maypole from an earlier era.

May 1700s - Cross-dressing May Day celebrations or The Garland Gone Wild


An 18C hand-colored print of chimney-sweeps’ May Day “Jack in the Green” celebrations in London. The portly “May Queen” on the right of the picture is probably a man. Bawdy & Bacchanalian these exuberant drunken celebrations of the coming in of Summer were gradually suppressed during the formality of the late Victorian period.

Traditional celebrations of the arrival of Summer on May Day had a rich cast of characters, not least the mysterious figure of the sinister Jack-in-the-Green, who wore a large, foliage-covered, garland-like framework, usually pyramidal or conical in shape, covering the body from head to foot.  The costume was a development of the 16C & 17C custom of decorating homes (and people) with garlands of flowers & leaves for the May Day celebration.

After becoming a source of competition between Britain's Works Guilds, the garlands became increasingly elaborate, finally covering the entire man. This figure resulting from extreme garlanding became known as Jack-in-the-Green.  For some reason the figure became particularly associated with chimney sweeps.

1836, 3 May: HATTON-GARDEN. - MY LORD AND MY LADY, OR JACK IN THE GREEN LUMBERED. - Yesterday George Sharpe, Edward Ellis, William Davies, and George Vincent, sweeps, were brought before Mr. Bennett and Mr. Halls, charged by Richard Bird, the street-keeper of Bedford-row, Holborn, with having created a disturbance, and assaulting him. 
    The prisoners were dressed up in an eccentric style. Sharpe and Ellis were clowns; Davis [sic] was papered and spangled as "My Lord," and Vincent, as "Jack in the Green." 
    Bird stated that yesterday morning, about twelve o'clock, prisoners entered Bedford-row with a fife and drum, followed by an immense crowd of persons, when they commenced dancing and disturbing the whole of the neighbourhood. He ordered them to remove, when they refused ; and, on making an effort to move them, Davies struck him, and he was immediately surrounded and beaten by them, and he would have been murdered had it not been for the arrival of the police. 
    A witness corroborated this evidence. 
    Mr. Barnett [sic] asked Davies what he had to say? 
    Davies (in a gruff voice) - Vy, my Lord, I'm a serveep ; my father was a serveep afore me ; and ve alvays vos 'lowed to go about in May. The beadle pushed us along, ven I sartainly did strike him, but he hit my child on its head.
    Eliza Sharpe, who held a child in her arms, said that Bird struck the child on its head with his staff, and pointed out a bruise on its forehead, but she could not say that he did it wilfully. 
    Mr. Barnett [sic] asked Bird why he used his staff? 
    Bird - I was obliged, in self-defence. They were all upon me, your Worship. 
    Mr. Bennett - You have acted rather intemperately ; you ought not to have used your staff. 
    Mr. Bennett - You have acted rather intemperately. You ought not to have used your staff. [sic] 
    Davies - We axed him if we might have a dance, and vile ve wer in the reel round "Jack in the Green" he cum'd and turned us avay for nuffen votsamdever ; there are some o' these chaps vot goes about, vot are not serveeps (pulling up his trowsers), but if yer Lordship vants to be satisfied on that ere subject only look at my knees, (showing large corns on his knee-pans) I assures yer Vorship ve are reglar flue-flakers, and I've been up the smallest flues in the country. I was born a serveep, I've lived a serveep, and I'll die a serveep. (Laughter.) 
    Mr. Bennett - I certainly must say that it is very irregular for such persons to go about the streets creating a mob and disturbance, but it is an ancient custom, and they ought not to be interfered with. (To Bird) - I do not mean to censure you ; but if you had not interfered you would have acted more wisely. If you call upon me to punish them for their conduct I must do so; but, under the circumstances, you having used your staff, I think you would act more wisely not to press the matter. 
    Bird said he would not, and the whole of the prisoners were discharged, and, on leaving the Court, Jack popped into the Green ; and, after regaling themselves at an adjacent public-house, they proceeded opposite the office and struck up a tune, and continued dancing in a most ludicrous manner until they got out of the neighbourhood.  The Morning Post, 4 May 1836, page 4.

1856, 3 May: On the 3rd inst. a young woman, named Mary Sullivan, residing in Paviour's-alley, Lambeth, was attracted by the display of a Jack-in-the-Green, accompanied by my lord and lady and clown. The latter individual indulged very freely in the clown's proverbial mischievous pranks, and suddenly catching hold of the young woman he embraced her. This unexpected act produced a shock on the nervous system. One fit succeeded another. She was removed to the hospital, but never rallied. The Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle, 24 May 1856, page 6.

By the turn of the 20C the custom had started to wane, as a result of the Victorian disapproval of bawdy behavior. The cross-dressing Lord & Lady of the May, with their practical jokes & embarassing excesses, were replaced by the chaste tableau of the May Queen, while the noisy, usually drunken Jack-in-the-Green vanished from most local parades.

May - The evolution of Garlands for May Day

1508 Hans Süss von Kulmbach (German, Kulmbach ca. 1480–1522 Nuremberg) Portrait of a Young Man Girl Making a Garland

Making a Garland. Petites Heures de la Reine Anne de Bretagne

1500 - Book of Hours by Jean Poyer, known as The Hours of Henry VIII - May - Picking Branches

  Myles Birket Foster (1825-1899) May 1st or Garland Day

 James Hayllar (1829–1920) May Day

 Myles Birket Foster (1825-1899) May Day Garlands

 1860 Thomas Falcon Marshall (1818-1878) May Day Garlands

1884 Herbert Gustave Schmalz (1856 –1935) renamed himself John Wilson Carmichael in 1918

19C A combintion of Morris & Maypole dancing and Hobby Horses,  English Morris Dancing may be the modern survival of a primitive pre-Christian ceremonial of ritual dance & drama ensuring & celebrating the renewal of Spring. This rite once flourished all over Europe & even today dances similar to the Morris can be seen in parts of France, Spain, Rumania & Portugal. The earliest documentary references to Morris dancers are mainly from Church accounts in the early 1500's - "Silver paper for the Mores-dawncers - 7d". "for VI peyre of shones for ye Mors dauncers - 4d" (1509/1510). It was certainly thriving in Shakespeare's time; Will Kemp's 'Nine Daies Wonder' was a Morris marathon from London to Norwich in 1600.  One popular theory points to evidence of similar dances in England, derived from the Druids' Maris dances, in celebration of the god Maris.  By Elizabethan times, the Morris was already known as an "ancient custom," & had become established in many areas, mainly the Cotswolds, the Welsh Borders & the North West of England. It was also a favorite entertainment at Court. A Morris dance team often featured a "Fool" or an "Animal" (a dancer in disguise, often as a dragon or hobby horse).

Edgar Barclay (1842-1913) May Day

May 1800s - Robert Walker Macbeth (1848-1910) - Maypole scene

1800s Robert Walker Macbeth (1848-1910) - Maypole scene depicting an earlier era

May 1700s - Garden by Cornelis Troost (successor) (1697-1750)

 1700s Cornelis Troost (successor) (1697-1750) Month of May

May 1781 - Carington Bowles in London

1781 The Twelve Months print Carington Bowles (Published by) Robert Dighton (After) Richard Earlom (Print made by) London

May 1760s - London

1761–1770 John Collet (British artist, c.1725–1780) A Satire of a May Day Scene in London

May 1700s - Vauxhall & Ranelagh & Cremorne Public Pleasure Gardens celebrate May Day

1741 Francis Hayman Country Dances Round a Maypole

Scene painter Francis Hayman's 1st major decorative commission consisted of large paintings for Spring Gardens, Vauxhall. The contract came from Hayman's patron, the entrepreneur Jonathan Tyers (died 1767), who held the lease on Spring Gardens & was responsible for opening an expanded venue to the public in 1732.

This painting was one of 50 supper box pictures at Spring Gardens, Vauxhall. They each formed the back of a supper box, an ornate wooden shelter formed of two side walls & a roof, framing picturesque views through the Gardens, where guests could take supper & light refreshments. Because guests came to look at the garden views as well as the passing visitors, at a designated moment in the evening's entertainment, the canvas paintings were 'let fall" to enclose the diners at the back.  Privacy was also a component of the evening's allure.  The front was left permanently open for the fashionable occupants to see & be seen.

One of the May Day customs that Francis Hayman illustrated was dancing round the May Pole. In England, this custom still persists, although the days when it was a welcome sight on most village greens have long gone. The Puritans perceived it as an immoral activity & literally tried to cut down May Poles in many places. Nowadays May Pole dancing is regarded as a harmless activity for children. The painting's theme of pleasure was in keeping with the spirit of carnival that Tyers promoted at Spring Gardens in Vauxhall.  Not to be outdone, the newer Ranelagh gardens also celebrated May.

1759 Ranelagh Jubilee Ball May

And in the 19C, celebrations of May Day at Britain's public pleasure gardens continued.

Maypole Dance at Cremorne Gardens