The great "Mays" of Notre-Dame de Paris

The "Mays" of Notre-Dame de Paris are large paintings that were ordered almost every year, from 1630 to 1707, by the Corporation of the Parisian goldsmiths to offer them every spring, on May 1st, to their Cathedral in honor of the Virgin Mary.

This is the May 1st, 1449 that was instituted by the Parisian goldsmiths the offering of May to Notre-Dame de Paris. This tradition took different forms over the centuries. At first it was of a leafy tree , decorated with banners and ribbons, which were solemnly planted in front of the Cathedral's high altar as a sign of a love of Marian devotion. In 1499, the goldsmiths added The gift of a Tabernacle-shaped architecture machine to which are hung sonnets and other poems the ensemble hung from the vault. In 1533, appear in decoration on Tabernacles of paintings of the history of the old testament, beginning with the creation of the world. It is then that we find a series of small Mays . Subjects are most often borrowed from the life of the Virgin . In 1630, finally, in agreement with the chapter of the Cathedral, The small Mays are replaced by large canvases commemorating an act of the Apostles . This is how the goldsmiths will offer each year, in a decisive gesture of artistic creation, a painting of nearly 4 meters high, the first big may will measure 3 meters 40 by 2 meters 75.

The themes were drawn from the acts of the Apostles of Saint Luke, which relate in particular to the missionary activity of the first disciples of Christ. The subjects were elaborated in close collaboration with the canons of the Cathedral, to which the painters had to submit their sketches. The artists chosen for this prestigious order were all members or close to the Royal Academy of painting and sculpture founded in 1648. A true emulation animated the painters between them and these commands quickly became a form of contest of great sacred painting. The great Mays, first exhibited before the Cathedral, found their final place hung in the arcades of the nave, the choir, the cross-braces and the ambulatory and in the chapels. They could be seen from a very large audience and commented by printed texts. These achievements constituted an irreplaceable testimony for the artists of their know-how. Collectors sought to possess their own Modelli. Jean-Baptiste de Champaigne was thus portraiturer, holding the preparatory drawing to Saint Paul stoned in lystres.

There were seventy-six of these tables When the brotherhood disappeared in 1708 (it was not available in 1683 and 1684). At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the financial difficulties of the Corporation of the goldsmiths, following the reforms initiated by Colbert, provoked the end of this company. The canons of the chapter also knew the great scandal of the public We had ceased to satisfy this pious duty. The big Mays, like other ecclesiastical property, were seized in 1793 (five or six were lost in the Revolution), transported to the Museum of the little Augustins and the Louvre. A party was able to return to Notre-Dame after the Concordat which followed the revolutionary torments; but the 19Th century restaurateurs removed the Cathedral from the remains of this space, which was considered cumbersome and scattered. If we now have about fifty of them, currently remains only thirteen presented to the public at Notre-Dame in the chapels of the nave:

The descent of the Holy Spirit by Jacques Blanchard – 1634
Saint Peter healing the sick from his shadow by Laurent de la Hyre – 1635
The conversion of Saint Paul by Laurent de la Hyre – 1637
The Centenier Corneille at the feet of St. Peter by Aubin Vouet – 1639
The preaching of Saint Peter in Jerusalem by Charles Poerson – 1642
The Crucifiement of St. Peter by Sébastien Bourdon – 1643
The Crucifiement of St. Andrew by Charles Le Brun – 1647
Saint Paul blinds the false prophet Barjesu and converts the proconsul Sergius by Nicolas Loir – 1650
The stoning of St. Stephen by Charles Le Brun – 1651
The flogging of Saint Paul and Silas by Louis Testelin – 1655
St. Andrew's delight in the sight of his torment by Gabriel Blanchard – 1670
The Prophet Agabus predicting to Saint Paul his sufferings in Jerusalem by Louis Chéron – 1687
The sons of Sceva beaten by the demon by Mathieu Elyas – 1702

In 1949 , on the occasion of the Fifth Centenary of their Corporation, the Parisian goldsmiths wished to take over this tradition of the may, arrested in 1707, and offer in Notre-Dame not only the green tree but still a beautiful monstrance Silver and vermeil deposited from the Treasury of the Cathedral.

You can also admire great Mays of Notre-Dame in a few churches in France, at the Louvre , and in provincial museums such as the Museum of fine arts of Arras , in the Pas-de-Calais (62), which inaugurated in 1999 a Mays Hall.

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