A mask-like face engulfed in undergrowth, leaves sprouting eerily from his wretched mouth. Sometimes beautiful, often sinister, this mysterious figure – so common in medieval sculpture – is known as ‘the Green Man’.

In his heyday, the Green Man could be found glaring in churches across Europe. Since then, he has permeated folklore, popular culture and literature.

But who is he? And where did he come from? Is he a positive symbol of springtime renewal? Or an image of dereliction and decay – a dark reminder of man’s mortality?

In this video, Alastair Sooke meets with Common Ground, the environmental charity that is the custodian of one of the largest collections of Green Man photography, donated by the late British botanist Kathleen Basford. She was known for her research into the cultural significance of this mythical figure, arguing that it acted as a motif for the "spiritual dimension of nature".

Watch the video to discover more about the surprisingly global origins of this very British folk icon.

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