May Morning on Magdalen Tower

LL 3599


The choristers of Magdalen College, Oxford, are singing a hymn to the rising sun on the first day of May. This ceremony of pagan origin was revived in the 1840s and appealed to Hunt who liked to combine a contemporary event with a strong didactic and symbolic purpose, in this case spiritual illumination. The figures are all portraits but not all those represented took part in the ceremony. Hunt never intended to paint a single actual performance of the sacred music but "to represent the spirit of a beautiful, primitive and, in a large sense, eternal service". The frame, rich with sun symbolism, was designed by Hunt. Hunt remained true to his Pre-Raphaelite ideals, even in this late work.