Thursday, July 6, 2017

Madonna in the Garden - In 16C Hortus Conclusus Garden

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. 
The Virgin and Child in a Garden Landscape 1505, attr to Jan Provoost or Jean Provoost or Jan Provost (Belgian, 1462-5-1529)

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.  The flowery mead is one of the essential components of the literary medieval garden. Poet Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) in his 1348 Decameron wrote "in the midst of the garden a lawn of very fine grass, so green it seemed nearly black, colored with perhaps a thousand kind of flowers……shut in with very green citrus & orange trees bearing, at the same time, both ripe fruit & young fruit & flowers so that they pleased the sense of smell as well as charmed the eyes with shade."

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.