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The Zodiacal Sign of Gemini

In the quatrefoil frame at the bottom of the May calendar page, the zodiacal emblem of Gemini is represented by two naked figures, one male and one female. This representation departs from the classical tradition that the constellation came into being when twin brothers, the mortal Castor and the immortal Pollux, were placed in the sky by Zeus after Castor’s death. Many medieval calendars do preserve the tradition and depict two frontward-facing male figures with entwined arms. However, there are variations on the theme, and in the fifteenth century a variant in which the twins are replaced by a man and a woman became common. Teresa Pérez-Higuera speculates that this variation, which can be seen in the Bedford Hours and the Très Riches Heures, as well as the Belles Heures, is an instance of the “iconographic contamination” common in the Middle Ages. The classical myth has been forgotten, and the strong association of the month of May with love, and the frequent representation of lovers in the May calendar tradition, have led to the representation of Gemini as a naked couple, although their lower limbs are sometimes concealed by a shield or other device (Medieval Calendars, 1997). In the Bedford Hours, commissioned by John of Lancaster, the man and woman face one another and embrace. Here, the outward-facing couple’s arms are enlaced, as in the traditional representation of Castor and Pollux. The same pose is found in the representation of Gemini in the Très Riches Heures, although the naked figures are seen at full length.

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