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L’Arbre de Mai (May Tree)

Alexis Bafcop1830/1895

Mucem

Mucem

This large painting depicts villagers planting a tree to which ribbons and flowers have been affixed. This is the May Tree, whose planting has celebrated throughout Europe for many centuries now. Beginning as a rite of fertility linked to the springtime return of foliage and rebirth of nature since Ancient times, it became a celebration of lovers during the Middle Ages. As the centuries went by, the May Tree would become an opportunity for a community to pay tribute to a lord or notable, a meaning which it still retains in France today.

For example, you can see the French flag in the upper right corner of the canvas. In some parts of France, the custom persists of planting a tree decorated with a flag in honour of newly elected town officials. This practice also stems from that of the Liberty Tree, when French Revolutionaries appropriated the May Tree to make it a symbol of the Revolution.

Sometimes found in the form of a pole, the tradition of the May Tree can be found elsewhere in Europe, assuming the characteristics of a community celebration, although not necessarily in the month of May: the Belgian Meyboom (on UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity), the British Maypole, the German Maibaum (particularly popular in Bavaria), the Italian Maggiolata, the Swedish Midsommarstang, and the list goes on.

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  • Title: L’Arbre de Mai (May Tree)
  • Creator: Alexis Bafcop
  • Date Created: 1830/1895
  • Location Created: Cassel, France
  • Physical Dimensions: 195 x 167 cm
  • Type: Oil on canvas

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