During the Middle Ages and the early modern period, the iconography of the month of May was often associated to the courtly world. For this reason, representations of the fifth month in the year were always crowded with young people, dames and knights all occupied with pleasant activities, such as falcon hunting.
The iconography of the month of May was also related to springtime and to its prolific blossoming. Rural activities taking place in May have been depicted in the Labour of the Months cycles, usually found on churches facades and in illuminated manuscripts.
Both courtly love and rural activities allude to fertility, abundance and to nature’s renewal. Fertility rites, celebrated by ancient pagans on or around the first day of May (such as the Bona Dea festival), were absorbed by Christian Europe and have survived to the present days. The first day of May has also been assimilated by secular Europe as a day of labor strikes and demonstrations known as International Workers’ Day, which falls on this day.
Source: Folia Magazine, The Month of May in the Middle Ages.
Benedetto antelami, Cycle of Months: May, 1210-1215, stone carving, Baptistery of Parma.
Luca della Robbia, Labours of the Months: May, c. 1450-1456, blue, white and yellow tin-glazed terracotta, Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Representation of the Twelve Months: May, 1391-1407, fresco, Torre dell’Aquila, Castello del Buonconsiglio, Trent
Francesco del Cossa, Allegory of May (detail), c.1470, fresco, Palazzo Schifanoia, Ferrara.
Benedict of Milan (upon drawings by Bramantino), Trivulzio Months: May, 1504-09, tapestry, Castello Sforzesco, Milan.
Antonio Tempesta, May: A Hunt (from the series: The Twelve Months I, pl. 5), 1599, etching, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Cristoforo Rustici (1560-1640), The month of May, garden party, fresco, Palazzo Pubblico, Siena.