Illustrated manuscripts and early depictions of Biblical gardens give us a glimpse of gardens familiar & imagined during those periods. Many images of medieval gardens are allegorical or metaphorical, rather than realistic representations of specific medieval gardens. The Virgin Mary begins to appear in both contrived, formal gardens & in more natural cultural landscape images in the 1300s.Giovanni di Paolo (Italian (Sienese), about 1399–1482) 1442 Madonna of Humility. Museum of Fine Arts in Boston
Here Giovanni di Paolo depicts the Christian Virgin Mary seated on the ground to indicate her humility, cradling her Child against a backdrop of strawberries & wildflowers within a sheltering, protective screen of fruit trees. In the distance stretches a real world landscape of cultivated fields, stony roads, & fortified towns.
Madonna of Humility refers to artistic portrayals of a humble Virgin Mary depicting her sitting on the ground, or sitting upon a low cushion. Humility was a virtue extolled by Saint Francis of Assisi, and this style of image was a favorite of Franciscan piety. The word humility, from the Latin humus, meaning earth or ground (humus = humilitas.) One of the most popular visual representations of the Virgin toward the end of the Middle Ages is the image of Mary as the Virgin of Humility. An early image in this style is the fresco of Simone Martini painted v. 1335-40 above the door under the west porch of the Cathedral of Avignon. The fresco shows the Virgin holding the child Jesus in her arms, sitting on the ground. This theme emerges at a period in the history of Christianity, when negative religious connotations of the earth faded replaced by the concept of nature as a creative force.
Of this painting of a Hortus Conclusus, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston tells us that the artist is emphasizing religious sentiment & decorative patterning rather than reality, the illusion of depth & three-dimensional form.
Themes traditionally associated with the Madonna are combined here: the Madonna of Humility appears in a Hortus Conclusus, or enclosed garden. Madonna of Humility refers to artistic portrayals of a humble Virgin Mary which depict her as a Madonna sitting on the ground, or sitting upon a low cushion. The earliest surviving works of this particular portrayal of the Virgin are found in frescoes & panel paintings in Italy & Avignon from the 1340s. In the hortus coclusus, Mary is allegorically represented as a fortress. For the medieval woman, the enclosed garden was designed to prove & maintain her loyalty to her entitled spouse. Purity of the bloodlines was a great socital concern for the medieval husband. When kings & lords left home to go to battle, they wanted to feel assured; that their wives remained inaccessible to rapists or suitors.