"C'est le mai, c'est le mai, c'est le joli mois de mai!"("It's
May, it's May, the beautiful month of May!") As the
song of old went, so the figures of this merry pageant
seem to be saying to one another.
On the first of May, following a tradition derived hom the floralia of antiquity, young men used to make a light-hearted jaunt through the country and bring back branches. On that day one had to wear green at the risk of being ridiculed. This is the origin of the expression "Je vous prends sans vert" ("I've caught you napping"). In his youth the Duc de Berry liked to take part in this festivity, and at court the King would distribute garments made of cloth vert gai in color and known as livrée de mai.
This garb is worn by the three girls riding horses caparisoned in a refined soft green, a color obtained from the crushed crystalline stone, malachite. The sumptuous dress lined with blue and ornamented with gold flowerwork identifies the girls as princesses. One, wearing a white headdress decorated with green leaves, dominates the middle of the scene.
Turning to contemplate her is a rider dressed half in red, half in black and white, the royal livery of France at that time; he is probably a prince of the blood. At the girl's left rides a man dressed in a rich blue brocaded coat strewn with golden flowers: could it be the Duc de Berry?
In front, musicians lead the gay group of amiable riders to the sound of their trumpet, flute, and trombone. They are accompanied by the Duke's small dogs which frisk about the horse's hoofs.
Roofs, towers, and the tops of tall buildings appear behind the wooded background. The architecture at time has been identified as the Château de Riom, capital of Auvergne and part of the Duke's appanage; however, it bears little resemblance to old representations of this château. On the contrary, it is undoubtedly similar to the Palais de la Cité in Paris (included in the month of June). Such precise details as the gables, chimneys, battlements, and weathervanes obviously form the roofs of the Palais.
On the left, the square tower with a bartizan would be the Châtelet on the right bank of the Seine. Then, after a gap and behind the turret of a corner building, are the top of a corner tower, the two towers of the Conciergerie, and the Tour de L'Horloge, all four of which still exist on the Ile de la Cité.
Farther on stand the twin towers of the Grand Salle of the Parlement, and at the extreme right the Tour Montgomery, seen from the rear. Therefore this pretty scene must have been set in the woods bordering the rue du Pré-aux-Clercs, near what is now the rue de Bellechasse.
small image (26KB) --- large image (247KB) --- detail (large) (215KB) --- Palais de la Cité (large) (245KB) --- another detail (large) (234KB) --- The Duke de Berry (detail) (237KB)