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April Activity: The Spirit of Spring

A foppishly dressed young nobleman stands in a grassy meadow on the verge of a grove of blossoming trees, holding a green branch in one hand and sniffing the flower he holds in the other. As Timothy Husband has noted, April is the only month in the calendar pages of the Belles Heures in which such an idle and carefree scene is depicted, in marked contrast to the toiling peasants of March (The Art of Illumination, 2008).

The medieval iconography for the month of April often hearkens back to an allegorical figure from the late antique calendar tradition: a single figure personifying Spring. The sex of the figure may be female or male; both sexes are shown bearing branches or blossoms in their hands. The female figure may derive from the goddess Flora and the processions associated with her festival, the Floralia, which was celebrated in late April and early May in ancient Rome. Teresa Perez-Higuera traces the use of the male figure in Roman calendars to floral processions in celebration of the Robigalia, the April 25th feast of Robigus, an agricultural god who protected cereal crops against rust (Medieval Calendars, 1997).

In the Belles Heures, the rather formal, allegorical presentation of Floridus, the male personification of the spirit of vegetation inherited from antiquity, has relaxed into a depiction of an idle courtier dallying away a spring day.

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