Thursday, July 6, 2017

Madonna in the Garden - 16C Hortus Conclusus Garden

Illustrated manuscripts & early depictions of landscapes in portrayals of Biblical gardens give us a glimpse of gardens - real, symbolic, familiar, & imagined by artists & their clients during those periods. 

The Virgin and Child in a Garden Landscape 1505, attr to Jan Provoost or Jean Provoost or Jan Provost (Belgian artist, 1462-65 - 1529)

The secluded garden, or ‘Hortus Conclusus,’ was associated with the Virgin Mary usually in a monastery garden.  This garden is enclosed with a rather unusual wooden fence. Grass is treated as a flowery mead planted with low growing wild flowers. A Mead is a medieval garden designed to imitate a small meadow or sometimes a larger, natural meadow. A Flowery Mead is a medieval term for a lawn rich in wild flowers. A flowery mead is often one of the essential components of a medieval garden. The flowery mead depicted is seldom within a distinct, geometric, larger garden.  

Albertus Magnus (c 1200-1280), a German Dominican friar & a Catholic bishop, was a great admirer of lawns & flowery meads "For the sight is in now way so pleasantly refreshed as by fine and close grass kept short." Most writers recommend digging out the original 'waste' plants, killing the seeds in the soil by flooding with boiling water, then laying out the lawn with curves laid in and pounded well. Another writer recommended mowing them twice a year; lawn mowing would have been done with scythes or primitive shears. 

The Madonna & Child seem to be sitting on a raised bed. John Parkinson (1657-1650) proposed in his 1629 Paradisi in Sole, Paradisus Terrestris, that beds could be edged "oaken inch boards four or five inches broad." Potted plants & trees often are depicted placed on top of grassy beds in images of Medieval gardens.  Pots made of clay seem to be the norm, usually in the familar 'Italian' flowerpot style as seen in this painting.