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St George's fete around a May tree Herman SAFTLEVEN (1609-1685)
St George's fete around a May tree Herman SAFTLEVEN (1609-1685) - Paintings & Drawings Style
Ref : 110267
40 000 €
Period :
17th century
Artist :
Medium :
Oil on Canvas
Dimensions :
L. 18.27 inch X l. 14.88 inch
Franck Anelli Fine Art

Paintings and 18th century furniture

+33 (0)6 08 65 18 06
St George's fete around a May tree Herman SAFTLEVEN (1609-1685)

A Rhenish landscape with peasants dancing around a May tree and ships moored at a pier (1682).

Oil on canvas
Sig. and inconspicuous dat. "HS 1682" on lower edge 37.8 x 46.4 cm

E. Douwes, Amsterdam
Sale Christie's, Amsterdam 6-11-2002, no. 60

"Herman Saftleven, 1609-1685. Leben und Werke mit einem kritischen Katalog der Gemälde und Zeichnungen" Wolfgang Schulz, 1982, no. 299, p. 185

The tradition of the May tree or maypole consists in planting a tree or a maypole during the month of May to celebrate the renewed vigor of vegetation and the return of the beautiful season.
Probably linked to the May festivities, its origins can be traced back to the early 13th century, before it gradually spread throughout Europe, both in the countryside and in towns. Often adorned with garlands, flowers, ribbons and other decorations, May trees form a focal point around which various festive celebrations take place.
The tradition is known throughout Europe by a variety of names.

The precise origins of the May tree tradition are not known, and while some scholars of the 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Wilhelm Mannhardt and James Frazer, regularly referred to ancestral customs and fertility rites, there are no sources to corroborate these assertions, which are no longer supported by contemporary research.
Similarly, Thomas Hobbes's and later Sigmund Freud's reference to phallic symbols, or even a reminiscence of the cult of the Roman god of masculine power Priape, has no historical basis.

So, rather than seeing in these devices the reminiscence of a spirit of fertility, it is probably more appropriate, following Mircea Eliade, to consider that it is simply a question of celebrating the return of the vigor of vegetation.

The earliest evidence of this dates back to the Middle Ages, and is probably linked to the May festivals documented in Italy, England and France as early as the first half of the 13th century, when people "went to the May" (i.e. the neighbouring woods) and collected green branches supposed to bring in May or summer, in order to celebrate the return of the beautiful season2. The custom of erecting a May tree or maypole then became an essential part of spring festivities in many parts of Europe, in villages and towns alike, where they provided useful devices on which garlands and other decorations could be hung to form a focal point for celebrating the return of the wood's vitality.

The tradition was first documented in Aachen in 1224 by the Cistercian monk Césaire de Heisterbach: a tree decorated with wreaths was erected there, but then felled by the town priest despite opposition from the crowd, who molested him; the town governor then had an even larger tree erected, but after a few days, almost the entire town was destroyed by fire5. They were soon to be found all over Europe, from the Pyrenees to Sweden and Russia6. The tradition is also attested in mid-fourteenth-century England1 and seems well established between 1350 and 1400 in English- and Welsh-speaking southern Britain, both in towns and in the countryside.
At the Council of Milan in 1579, the Catholic Church outlawed this pagan tradition and its related rites, stipulating that it was forbidden "on the first day of May, feast of the apostles St. James and St. Philip, to cut down trees with their branches, to walk them through the streets and crossroads, and then to plant them with foolish and ridiculous ceremonies."

The appearance of Christmas trees in public spaces in the Middle Ages can probably be traced back to the practice of May trees or "mais": sources attest to such practices in December in Alsace and the Black Forest, which were then known as "winter may" or "Christmas may".

Franck Anelli Fine Art


17th Century Oil Painting